Significant 20th Century Brutalists Buildings of Eastern Europe: our top 5

Brutalism is an architectural movement born in the twentieth century and spread in the following years in most of Europe. It originated from some works of the famous French architect Le Corbusier, who wanted to break with the simplicity and purity that characterized the architecture of the 1940s to create a new, plastic and imposing architecture.

This architectural style focused in particular on the use of a specific material: concrete, which took organic and daring forms; this material was able to convey to the structure strength and solidity. Hence the French expression béton brut which symbolized simple usage of raw concrete or an architecture with monumental forms, bold volumes and rough surfaces. The term Brutalism was officially invented by the English critic and historian Reyner Banham, in his 1966 book New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic, in which he described the works of young European architects who at that time gave life to innovative and never seen before architectures. Through this style numerous educational, administrative, religious and residential buildings were created between the 1950s and 1970s.

In Eastern Europe there are numerous buildings presenting this style, now we will focus on five examples to better understand the common ground despite the territorial, cultural and designer differences that created them. To understand their value, it is also important to remember that after the fall of the Soviet Union these buildings faced some additional challenges related to a lack of appreciation or acceptance by people because of their association with a period of time and a political system many want to forget.

Here’s our top 5!

1. Bencinski Servis Petrol

This petrol service station was designed as part of the integrated urban planning of the northern entrance to the city center of Ljubljana, Slovenia. It was supposed to be completed with a second column and create a transition to a lower building’s height along the former Prešeren road. On the other side of the road, a similar function was taken over by the building of the International Telephone Exchange. Architect Milan Mihelič designed a service station as a structurally distinctive canopy with reinforced concrete mushroom shape. Its central element is the cribbed concrete pillar, at its apex concrete rays cover the entire roof with a membrane shape and holes for lights.

Bencinski Servis Petrol, Ljubljana (Slovenia) - CC BY 2.0 Jeremy Segrott

2. Pametnik 1300 godini Bŭlgariya

Taking inspiration from an ancient Bulgarian myth that wanted human race to descend from Giants, the Pametnik 1300 godini Bŭlgariya (Monument for 1300 years of Bulgaria) shows the might of such important descendance with a massive use of concrete. Actually, the monument is considered ‘The heaviest communist monument on Earth’. The monument is situated on Llchov Bair Hill, 6 km away from the town of Shumen and is visible from as far as 30 miles away. It has really interesting form since it looks like a castle from some fantasy movie with its statues and paintings. Designed by Bulgarian sculptors Krum Damyanov and Ivan Slavov and the architects Georgi Gechev and Blagoi Atanasov, it celebrates the defining moments and stories behind the creation of the Bulgarian state and nation.

Pametnik 1300 godini Bŭlgariya
Pametnik 1300 godini Bŭlgariya (Bulgari) | ©Darmon Richter (

3. Buzludzha Monument

Located on the mountain of the Balkan chain trait of the same name at 1441 meters above sea level. It was built between 1973 and 1981 and was strongly desired by the Bulgarian Communist Party. Located 12 kilometers away from the Shipka Pass and 51 from the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, it was only used for eight years, until the fall of Soviet rule. It was used by the Bulgarian Communist Party as a place for conferences, meetings and events; today, instead, it is left to neglect and abandonment. On the outside it looks like a huge UFO covered with giant sentences written in Cyrillic. Inside, however, there is a large space from which two staircases lead towards the central hall. The walls of the main hall are circular and covered with frescoes, commissioned to the best Bulgarian artists of the time.

Buzludzha-Monument (Bulgaria) |© Darmon Richter

4. Kaunas Ninth Fort

Located on the outskirts of Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, Ninth Fort was completed in the early 1900s as the final part of Kaunas Fortress, a huge defensive structure encircling Kaunas and encompassing around 65 square kilometers. The Fortress was constructed in the 1880s/1890s to protect the Russian Empire’s western borders. At the time, Kaunas Fortress was the largest defensive structure in the region. The Ninth Fort is stunning at first sight, carved into a hill on a vantage position. It also has a monument resembling a crushed building, built as a reminder that in the Ninth Fort, from 1941 to 1944, around 50,000 people out of which around 30,000 of them were Jewish, were killed by the Nazis and their associates. Today, the Ninth Fort is a memorial site and a museum, which preserves and shares the historical memory with the society.

It is one of InnovaConcrete case studies, read more HERE >>

Kaunas Ninth Fort (Lithuania) | @InnovaConcrete

5. Szent László-Templom (St. Ladis Church)

Designed by László Csaba, a hungarian architect and the most significant designer of religious architecture post-World War II in the country, appears as a temple fitted into the landscape as a ‘holy tent’, consisting of a bare triangular beam made of monolithic concrete, whose saddle breaks up as a shell at the apse that closes the long ship and rises up to light up the tetrahedron of the sanctuary. Its peculiar shape continues in the interiors, where crooked walls make the whole church appear different from everything you may have seen before. Csaba tried to bring brutalism to a new level: instead of creating a super-massive and heavy building he tried to convey a sense of lightness, nimbleness and elegance. He was able to demonstrate how concrete could not only be a material suitable for creating grave and heavy buildings but also ones that are elegant.

Szent László-Templom
Szent László-Templom (Hungary) | @100fromthe20th

Therefore, it is clear that, despite the intrinsic differences of each work examined, the brutalist structures aimed to appear imposing, solemn, giant and massive. The main idea was to communicate solidity and strength in a critical moment for European and world history: the years following the Second World War. These works therefore assumed not only a functional value (based on the purpose for which they were designed) but also a community value (as places from which to start again after the disasters of the conflict).

Now, these are our Top 5 20th century’s brutalist buildings:  which are yours? Write us your personal top 5!

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