Pretty Hard

Images precede words

When I came across the page of a book on brutalist architecture, the pair of concrete corncobs immediately struck a cord, I have seen it somewhere, in another book. Not that I am familiar with the history of architecture, on the contrary far from it. I borrowed this book CONCRETE CONCEPT on Brutalist buildings around the world, just after I saw another book, CCCP: cosmic communist constructions photographed by Frédéric Chaubin. In his book Chaubin photographed ninety buildings sited in fourteen former Soviet Republics, most of them massive concrete structures characterised by angular geometric shapes and a predominantly monochrome colour palette. Concrete and grey, a type of architectural style classified as concrete brutalist made a strong impression on me. Last November when I visited the aquarium in Downtown Toronto I sudden had a feeling of being in such an environment - the area around the aquarium and the neighbouring Rogers Centre echoed a form of brutalist design I had not been aware of before.

Going back to the concrete corncobs, due to its particularly identifiable form, I registered it earlier in my mind when I read Instant Stories by Wim Wenders. It appeared in Cookie Monster in chapter 20. Wim Wenders' story was on the left page, on the right, three black and white polaroids shooting out from his hotel window, showing the twin round towers known as Marina City on the north bank of the Chicago River. It was the first time he visited Chicago, most probably in 1976, when his film King of the Road was playing in the festival. Designed by Bertrand Goldberg and Completed in 1967, the architectural style of Marina City is grouped also under Mid-Century Modernism (perhaps concrete brutalist is too descriptive making it pretty hard to attract middle-class downtown dwellers). This mixed-use complex stands side by side another iconic mid-century building, the AMA Plaza (1972) by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the pioneers of modernist architecture, also Bertrand Goldberg's teacher. "While Mies favoured the minimal, the rectangle, glass and pricey metal finishes," the description in the book noted, "Goldberg like curves and was happy to build in concrete. Both worked together in Berlin and ended up in Chicago, where each would stamp their mark on the city."


A page from CONCRETE CONCEPT by Christopher Beanland. The two towers of Marina City in the front and AMA Plaza at the back.


A page in Instant Stories. Wim Wenders' polaroids showing the two corncob towers, and the black slab of the AMA Plaza on the right edge (almost disappearing from the frame).