Striking yet calming. Those are what comes to mind when you talk about eco-brutalist buildings.
But really, how eco-friendly are these buildings?
We’re here to answer all your questions, and clear up some information about this highly controversial building practice — including the ugly truth about a trusted building material, concrete.
What is Eco-brutalism?
Eco-brutalism is the more environmentally-friendly version of brutalism. Now, if you’re not familiar with architecture terms, you might be thinking, well, what’s brutalism? Brutalist architecture is characterized by massive, usually fully concrete buildings with unusual shapes and rough surfaces (1). It rose in popularity during the 1950s and was adapted by many post-war countries.
On that note, eco-brutalism uses the brutalist concept and incorporates the green aspect of sustainability. This results in concrete buildings with a lot of greenery. In architecture terms, this is referred to as a juxtaposition, or contrasting ideas put together.
What are some examples of Eco-brutalist buildings?
To give you a clearer picture of what eco-brutalist buildings look like we’ve made a list of some of the most famous eco-brutalist buildings in the world.
The Jungle House
The 3-storey eco-brutalist structure is strategically tucked away in the Atlantic Rain Forest in Guarujá, on the coast of São Paulo. It features an elevated, terraced design to fit well with the landscape. This allows the structure to be built with as little impact to the build site as possible.
The design around the topography worked so well that the entire house is supported only by 2 pillars. This makes it appear as though the main floor emerges from the mountainside that it sits on.
To make full use of the natural surroundings, the top floor has a pool with a lounge area. Plus, it has a green roof with a sitting area.
The Art Villa
This Costa Rican resort is situated on a jungle hill overlooking the Playa Hermosa beach. Of the 3 villas in the resort, the Art Villa was the first one to be built. It’s a two-storey, 5-bedroom concrete structure with big glass windows, wood accents and water features.
The interior of The Art Villa was inspired by all the nature surrounding it. It had a sense of luxury with lots of live indoor plants, locally sourced furniture, and refined finishes. However, it emphasized the brutalist aspect with raw concrete walls.
Moving from South America to Asia, The Tiing is a boutique resort located between the jungles and beaches of Bali.
Unlike other eco-brutalist buildings with a smooth concrete finish, this structure has walls casted using bamboo. This gives it a textured finish that doesn’t need maintenance (2).
“The materiality of this project aims to work within the local context, construction techniques, resources and climate — a rugged regionalism,”
With the textured finish, any weathering from the tropical climate will enhance the building’s character over time.
The Mamun Residence
As the name suggests, the Mamun Residence is a private home in a regular neighborhood in Bangladesh. The structure was inspired by the mathal hat worn by local farmers to protect them from the heat (3).
The residential structure was designed to block out heavy winds, intense heat and even earthquakes. It also has strategically-placed windows to manage air flow and lots of plants to add a cooling effect from all the concrete.
The Casa Meztitla
Another eco-brutalist building that blends seamlessly with its surroundings is the Casa Meztitla. Unlike the other examples mentioned earlier, this structure also uses volcanic stone that was sourced locally.
The living spaces of this house all open up into the outdoors via large glass doors. It also has a pool with its water supplied by a rainwater catchment system.
What are the environmental impacts of Eco-Brutalism?
Despite the eco-friendly aspects of eco-brutalism, there are still some controversies surrounding this architectural style. So let’s look into the good and bad sides of eco-brutalism.
What are the benefits of Eco-Brutalism?
The two key aspects of eco-brutalism are the use of concrete and incorporating greenery into the build. But what does this mean in terms of being better for the environment?
Concrete is known for being ultra-durable. It is also rot-proof, weather-resistant and resistant to vermin damage. This means that concrete generally lasts longer and requires less maintenance over its design life (4).
“These benefits ultimately reduce the environmental impact by requiring less construction and reconstruction, lowering CO2 emissions, raw materials consumption, and energy use, as well as noise and dust emissions.”
The overall durability also means that the structures can be reused or repurposed several times. In turn this means less demolition and need for rebuilding.
Adding plants to a mainly concrete building provides several benefits. Plant walls and green roofs can reduce the heating/cooling costs of a building by providing natural insulation.
At the same time, the plants purify the air by filtering out pollutants. This improves the air quality of both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Lastly, outdoor green spaces develop into microhabitats for small animals.
What are the downsides of Eco-Brutalism?
So far, eco-brutalism looks like it’s the future of sustainable architecture. But why is there still so much controversy surrounding it? Let’s take a closer look into the negative impacts of these buildings.
Concrete is not really eco-friendly
It was mentioned earlier that concrete eventually requires less maintenance and therefore reduces CO2 emissions. While this is true, producing concrete itself entails a large amount of carbon emission (5).
Taking in all stages of production, concrete is said to be responsible for 4-8% of the world’s CO2.
As you can imagine, the benefits are not worth the cost of production. And that is where the biggest controversy of eco-brutalism lies.
Limited Greenery and Flooding
Concrete and soil are very different for growing plants. Even if green spaces are added to concrete buildings, their growth is limited by the soil area within the concrete.
Plus, concrete doesn’t absorb water like soil does. Should any heavy rains come often, concrete buildings and streets won’t drain rainwater properly. This increases the chances of flooding in the vicinity.
Can eco-brutalism be fully sustainable?
Now that we’ve weighed the pros and cons of eco-brutalist buildings, it’s time to determine whether this architectural style can be fully sustainable.
The answer is yes, but with one main consideration: Material choice.
We’ve established that concrete does more harm than good when it comes to building practices. Luckily, there are alternative, more eco-friendly materials that can be used to achieve the same look as conventional eco-brutalist buildings.
Rocks and clay are two of the best materials to substitute for concrete. Because these are naturally-occurring materials, you can be sure that they won’t leach chemicals into the soil or air. Plus, the only CO2 emissions that will be recorded is for obtaining the materials and bringing them to the build site.
At the end, you can watch this video, which talks about this topic in more detail:
As much as eco-brutalism has risen to fame as an eco-friendly building solution, so has the controversies that go with it. Fortunately, a middle ground can be seen by opting for more natural materials.
Eco-brutalism can therefore be a sustainable building practice with careful thought and consideration of materials and overall impact to the environment. Choosing the lesser evil is the way to go when you can’t build completely carbon-free.
- Brutalism. Retrieved from: https://www.architecture.com/explore-architecture/brutalism
- Rough concrete walls frame jungle views at The Tiing hotel in Bali. Retrieved from: https://www.dezeen.com/2020/05/06/the-tiing-bali-hotel-nic-brunsdon-concrete-walls/
- Mamun Residence | SHATOTTO architecture for green living. Retrieved from: https://www.archidiaries.com/projects/mamun-residence/
- Durability. Retrieved from: https://gccassociation.org/sustainability-benefits-of-concrete/durability/
- Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/feb/25/concrete-the-most-destructive-material-on-earth
Tana grew up around island farms and pine forests. Her love for nature lead to her degree in Biology and mission to lessen her environmental impact. Now she grows food in her backyard and shares what she learns from Eco Peanut with others.