Beton Brut

“The author of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming, named Goldfinger for a real person—an architect by the name of Erno Goldfinger, who made giant, hulking, austere concrete buildings. Fleming disliked these buildings so intensely that he immortalized their architect as a villain in pop culture…Some people refer to this building style as Brutalist architecture, but Brutalism is a big, broad label that’s used inconsistently, and architects tend to disagree on a precise definition of the word. Furthermore, the word brutalism has intense connotations, even though it’s not actually related to brutality. The word originates from the French béton brut, which means raw concrete.”*

– – –

April 26, 2007

We slaughtered the small talk and closed in on my favorite conversational prey: dysfunctional relationships, with a side of sexual deviancy.

I blamed it all on Nabokov, citing both of my quasi-sexual experiences with a forty-two year old and an eighteen-year-old as evidence. She laughed – the way someone laughs when they haven’t read Nabokov and don’t understand just how devastating it can all be – but I didn’t mind.

It felt like we were David Niven and Kim Hunter in the opening scene of A Matter of Life and Death – when she’s on the radio with him as his plane is going down and they experience this gorgeously spontaneous connection.

By the time we were done she’d massacred the muffins and I’d had even more bubbly thanks to that damned waitress. I realized I’d reached “the moment” of the conversation when I either mystify the participant with glamorous ambiguity or intrigue them with contradictory complexity. I remember picking a tactic, then saying something altogether different. It went something like this:

“My pelvis wants a man and my mind wants a woman.”

Her gaze was fixed, as if through intensity she could lift the hood of my head and see if the oil needed changing or if the transmission was toast.

– – –

“When Boston City Hall was built in 1968, critics were put off by the concrete style. It was called ‘alienating’ and ‘cold.’ And since it was a government building, this criticism became impossible to remove from politics. Boston City Hall became a political pawn as mayors and city council members vied for public support with promises to tear it down. But tearing down Boston City Hall has never come to pass. Doing so would take an incredible amount of effort and money. And so, government officials have largely chosen to ignore the building. This so-called active neglect happens with a lot of concrete buildings—they are intentionally unrenovated and uncared for. Which only makes the building more ugly, and then more hated, and then more ignored. It’s a vicious cycle wherein the public hate of a building feeds on itself.”

– – –

February 4, 2009

“Do you like to make out?” He asks. Do I? I’ve done it before. Maybe if I do it again I’ll have a definite opinion. I tell my body to look busy. Is he thinking this is the countdown to copulation? I wonder. I told him “I’ve never done anything”; maybe he interpreted that as “I’m a slacker”?

His hand goes up my shirt. My hand goes up in the air. “Uh, no.” I say. “What?” he says. “Just, no.” I say. He leans back and says, “why are you so insecure?”

I close my eyes. “I don’t want to be a book with just pictures and no words. Or a book with just words and no pictures – that’s probably what I am. Why are you insecure?”

He looks slightly away. “I used to get made fun of a lot.” I nod, then ask: “What’s the worst thing someone did?” He pauses. He says, “This one time a guy made fun of my mannerisms in front of the girl that I liked, and she laughed.” I nod. “What about you?” He asks.

I pause. “When I was a freshman in high school my class voted me on homecoming court as a joke. All my friends told me. Which made me wonder if they were my friends, but it made sense. For the next month everybody was sarcastically high-fiving and spanking me,” I say, poking at the past with a stick…yes, it’s dead. I look at him. He is tired, and tedious, and I want to shove his head in a fishbowl and watch the bettas swim in and out of his mouth, and try to kill one another.

– – –

“When people built these mammoth concrete structures, no one really thought about maintenance, because they seemed indestructible. In the early days of concrete, people assumed it was an everlasting material that wouldn’t require any further attention. This has not proved true. But, it can be hard to tell when concrete needs repairing, because its decay is not visible on the surface. Concrete deteriorates chemically, from the inside out. Part of this has to do with the metal rebar reinforcements that help to hold up most concrete buildings. The rebar can rust, and the rust can eat away at the overall structure.”

– – –

June 2, 2010

“Now, put on the first outfit,” the photographer says, demonstrating how a whisper can be a command.

“All right,” I say, looking through the outfits. They are overpowering; they are overdone; they are just over. But he’s a friend, so I put them on. Like Ben Folds, I do the best imitation of myself.

Soon he is telling me to do things I don’t do anymore, while making it look like I do…”give me a cocky pose.” I do. “No, like this.” He does it. I do it. “Umm, not quite, here, mirror me.” He does it. I do it. “No, come stand where I’m standing.” He does it. I do it. click. “Done. Next outfit.”

Years ago I saw Paris is Burning, a documentary about vogue balls in New York City. The participants try to pass for their opposite gender or social class. All I know is they walked down that runway like they were walking away from their old selves.

– – –

“Photography is allowing a new audience to appreciate these buildings for their strong lines, crisp shadows, and increasingly, the idealism they embody. ‘[Concrete buildings] represent a set of ideas about the state of the world and what the future was imagined to be that we want to preserve,’ says Adrian Forty, author of Concrete and Culture. ‘We should remember what people were thinking 50 years ago. If we tear these buildings down, we will lose all of that.'”

 

 

*All selections are from Roman Mars’ fantastic article on Brutalist architecture for Slate magazine.

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