Trinity College is one of Dublin’s most famous landmarks, and as it’s located right in the centre of the city and business district, it’s also a prominent tourist attraction. While many tourists come to visit the famous Book of Kells in the Old Library Building at Trinity, and to see the famous interior and collection of other books, there’s also a number of other buildings on the Trinity campus that are celebrated for their architectural design, and for being representative of historical periods and movements, such as the Georgian era and modernism.
The Berkeley Library, which is a famous example of brutalist modernist architecture, is one of these buildings, and is located right next door to the Old Library building on campus. An example of a type of architecture made famous by Le Corbusier, the raw concrete exterior is the defining characteristic of this style, which comes from the French “béton brut”, and speaks to a purposefully exposed concrete exterior. The word “brut” was then taken up as a defining word for this style, which was first called New Brutalism, and was then later just referred to as brutalism.
Style of Architecture
To go into detail about Brutalism as a style, and add more context to how the style developed, it’s relevant to look into when this style was most popular. As a result of the social utopian philosophy held by influential architects like Le Corbusier, Brutalism developed as a style of architecture that was used as an efficient and low cost way to build large structures for public use.
This style was very popular from the 1950s to the 1970s, following on from a post-war approach to design that went against the elaborate style of pre-war design, for example, Art Nouveau. This raw exterior, according to the philosophy behind the design, was therefore a way to communicate a philosophical ethos of honesty, as opposed to former styles.
So, although Brutalism followed on from the modern movement, and architects like Mies van der Rohe, it is still inspired by the same principles of creating an aesthetic language of practicality and unpretentiousness. In creating the raw structure, for example, the concrete is poured into a mould, and when the structure has set, one of the defining characteristics of Brutalist architecture is that you can still see evidence of the material on the surface of the concrete, instead of covering it up to hide the process behind the construction.
In the case of the Berkeley library at Trinity, for example, you can see evidence of the wood that was used to create the concrete mould on the surface of the building.
History of the Architecture Firm
As with many important public buildings in Dublin, the opportunity to build and design the Berkeley Library was the result of a public competition, which was won by architecture firm Ahrends Burton & Koralek in 1960. Although the building has been criticised for not blending into the surrounding architecture, the brief for the competition was to specifically create a building that would represent the 20th century, as a complement to the surrounding buildings, which represent the 18th and 19th century.
The firm, referred to now as ABK, still upholds the same modern, but not orthodox, approach to architectural design, and has designed many other public buildings, such as civic council offices, libraries and educational buildings in Ireland.
Outdoor Sculpture: Sphere within a sphere
As with many modern buildings, public art also complements the design of the Berkeley Library, in this case a sculpture called Sphere within a sphere by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, which is also part of a series of the same sculpture with locations all around the world, including the Vatican. The concept behind the sculpture is of a world within a world, which you can see through the cracks of the first “sphere”. This represents the fragility and complexity of the world, and also gives the impression of the machinery, with aesthetic links to cogs and wheels like you would find in a clock.
The international scope of the sculpture also gives it a more universal appeal, and placed next to the Berkeley Library at Trinity, the concept of complexity links to education and and understanding the world. The theme of discovery and understanding also links to the famous Book of Kells which is kept in the Old Library building next door to the Berkeley Library, a famous depiction of the biblical gospels, and an item of historical importance that also creates a link between the sculpture, Trinity and the Vatican.
Brutalism and the International Style, how is it different?
Brutalism has received a lot of negative criticism for its association with totalitarianism and soullessness, as well as for the fact that raw concrete often does not weather well in wet climates. However, there are many Brutalist buildings that have been revamped for greater adaptability to a more contemporary context.
As we’ve discussed before, Brutalism follows on from Mies van der Rohe’s modernist approach, in that it follows on from social utopian ideology and speaks to the same philosophical underpinnings. However, brutalism, as opposed to Miesian architecture, is more focused on the raw, visual representation of the construction of the building. Although Mies also exposed the inner construction of his buildings, his approach was primarily focused on skyscrapers and materials like steel and glass, whereas Le Corbusier’s international architectural projects used more reinforced concrete.