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A Love Letter To The Golden Age Of Concrete Architecture

Postwar buildings aren’t aging gracefully, but Serge Fruehauf lovingly photographs them as if they’re monuments.

Ornate buildings invite us to pore over their beautiful details, but the plain, often imposing facades of post-war concrete architecture usually make us look away–or look past them entirely. Yet in a new book called Extra Normal from Scheidegger and Spiess, Swiss photographer Serge Fruehauf focuses on their inspired details, which are often hiding in plain sight.

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For the past 20 years, Fruehauf has photographed concrete buildings in Paris, Geneva, Grenoble, and Lyon. Rather than focusing on the whole silhouette of the structure, he often zeroes in on specific parts, like doorways, banisters, or the pattern of windows.

As Martino Stierli, chief curator of MoMA’s Architecture and Design department, writes in the book’s introduction: “His loving survey of concrete stairways, garden walls, and windowsills–though they might now lead to dead ends, fallen victim to disfigurement through later interventions–enables us to recognize the creative impulse that drove the architects of this generation to embrace the multifaceted nature of concrete as a building material.”

Photo: Serge Fruehauf

Unfortunately, most of these buildings haven’t aged gracefully. Architects around the world embraced concrete as a building material, but Brutalism never really caught on with the public. As a result, many of them have fallen into disrepair or just haven’t received the TLC needed to keep them looking pristine. However, the cracks, discoloration, and mottled surfaces make the buildings more fascinating, in a way, and Fruehauf manages to capture that in each of his unnamed, anonymous subjects. They have character and it shows.

“Here, architectural modernism has been boiled down to a vernacular of the grotesque,” Stierli writes. “Given the ubiquity of this fading modernity in our cities, we tend to read Fruehauf’s photographs as allegories of a cultural situation in the here and now.”

See a handful of Fruehauf’s images in the slideshow above and find Extra Normal on Amazon for $50.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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