33 Thomas Street, NYC, extreme brutalism

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> Every time I look at this building, or [1] this , or [2] this , or [3] this, I see it as one of a billion pieces of concrete devoid of personality.

It’s actually really interesting that you’d phrase it this way because that’s exactly where the beauty is.

Consider classical music, which has a lot of parallels with architecture. Both seek a sense of harmony, both involve rigid, formulaic structure, both use that structure to create profound beauty that extends way beyond its individual components.

Music is based around tonality, the idea that one note is a cornerstone (“tonic”) and all others in the composition revolve around it. If C is your tonic, you will start with C and end with C and all notes will in some way complement C. [Here’s an example of that](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mozart-Reti_-_The_Magic_Flute.png).

Around the start of the 20th century, tonality had been exhausted. We’d more or less done everything we could with the system, everything from tribal to romanticist exploiting and twisting the idea of the tonic but never really leaving it behind. It was a base aesthetic idea, the starting point for every piece of music out there, and questioning it was so taboo that our brains are wired to find divergent pieces very unpleasant, if not frightening and physically painful.

So anyway, 20th century. A bloke by the name of Arnold Schoenberg comes along and decides that the chromatic scale, which has twelve notes, should not have one special note while the rest are left as supporting actors. His innovation was twelve-note composition, in which all twelve notes are used as equally as possible. That’s going from one central note and four or five supporting notes to twelve which don’t necessarily relate to each other at all.

BUT HAPAPILYBAJUR, HOW DIS RELATE TO ARCHITECTURE? Like brutalism, people fucking hated twelve-note composition and its inspired movement, atonality (non-tonal music). It was the most jarring, dissonant thing they had ever heard and the 20th century can be clearly divided between the atonalists and those who’d hang the former from trees if they had a length of rope. It was, as you said, “one of a billion pieces of concrete (notes) devoid of personality”.

But atonalism and brutalism both stand for something important, as does modern art or interpretive dance or any number of movements people consider the death of creativity. Both architecture and music had by that point in their life cycle reached a moment where they were so caked in makeup you could no longer see their faces. For music it was mindless glorification of the tonic, for architecture it was this ever-increasing ornateness without any real value added to the structure. Dance had the rigid ballet, waltz, and old modern styles, art had impressionism and neoclassicism, it was all just really done-up and suffocatingly self-indulgent.

So now we have atonalism and brutalism. Instantly, both strip away all that we’ve come to know as aesthetic beauty. Instead of lovemaking it’s rape, instead of colour it’s greyscale, it’s salt and pepper instead of a spice shop and four wheels affixed to a slab of metal rather than a Porsche.

Both of these movements represent the raw essence of their greater art and feature nothing but it. An atonal composition is sound from an instrument which doesn’t care for its audience’s perception as long as it reaches their ears, a brutalist building is a solid block of material which doesn’t take into consideration its surroundings or image as long as it houses whatever it was built to house. Essentially they’re nudists standing amongst a room full of 18th century aristocrats, everyone else in wigs and oversized gold-laced ruffled suits while both stand completely naked because at their core they know they’re a human body and see no reason to obscure that beauty.

Brutalism is beautiful when you consider that it’s the antithesis of beauty. Everything about this structure is ugly at best, horrifying at worst. You walk up its stairs and you feel dead, you look above you and know loneliness like no person ever should, you touch it and it’s rough and cold and absolutely horrid. But all around it are buildings with giant marble columns, polished glass plate windows, oversized grotesques and statues commemorating Greek gods and art deco whatevers. They’re buildings pretending that they’re sculptures, purposely built to comfort and inspire and cuddle the viewer and inhabitant while simultaneously hiding their structure behind as much polish as money can buy. 33 Thomas Street sits there unsymmetrical and hideous saying “I too am a building.” and the beauty is that it’s right.

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