Behind Brutalism

With his “Plato” series, photographer Alex Schoelcher queries life beyond the facade of one of the most loved – and hated – styles of architecture.

Books and catalogues, (also interactive) exhibitions, cardboard assembly kits, cataloguing websites and above all a flood of Instagram feeds and hashtags: the mid 2010s will be remembered for the rediscovery of Brutalism.

So well versed, we can gloss over the origin of the term and the definition of the style, and rather dwell on why the utilitarism–and–monumentalism–seasoned raw concrete has become again so popular without the ideological push that marked its compulsory original establishment.

The trivial graphic effectiveness of geometry? A desire for concreteness in an ever-more fluid world? The thinly veiled need for a patronising guidance (also from an aesthetic standpoint) in a moment of democratic confusion?

Alex Schoelcher chose to bypass these possibilities, go round the shallowness of contemporary gaze and inquire what’s behind the facade. Literally.

From the series “Plato” by Alex Schoelcher
From the series “Plato” by Alex Schoelcher

Born to French father and Iranian mother, rasied in Nigeria, Syria, Holland and United Kingdom, trained and now based in Australia, the globetrotter photographer spent a muggy summer week in Tblisi with the tenants of Nutsubidze Plato 1, one of the monstrous — hence beautiful, according to Brutalism enthusiasts — collective buildings erected in Georgia during the Soviet invasion. Unchanged (read: never renovated, a technically and philosophically shared destiny inherent in the DNA of many works belonging to the same strand) since the mid 70’s, the premises provide the perfect set to the charachters of “Plato”, that Schoelcher, raised on the pattern laid down by Charlie Crane, Pieter Hugo and Chris Nunn, calls his first official photo documentary series.

Always framed in an architecture so intrusive to be paradoxically obvious, everyday details are alternated with the expression of the people who spend their lives in this architecture and that probably still don’t get the fascination for béton brut, the bulky legacy of a past that has not faded away already.

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