Why The Brutalism Appreciation Society’s Murray Tompsett Had To Visit Bobigny and Beyond

Greyscape caught up with Murray after his trip to Bobigny, the capital of the Seine-Saint-Denis department on the outskirts of Paris. Armed with a simple mobile phone, a moderator of the Brutalism Appreciation Society captured the fascinating architecture of a  post-war experiment in urban planning.

Brutalist concrete facade

concrete detail Bobigny brutalist architecture

He explains, ‘I travelled to Paris last Autumn with a friend as we knew there was so much wonderful architecture to explore. I had seen pictures of Bobigny City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) a few years previously which just looked so amazing that I knew I had to visit. Bobigny is to the north-west of central Paris, and that’s where we headed to on our first morning in town….. and it was just fantastic. So much wonderful Brutalist and Modernist architecture from the moment you step off the metro. Everything seems to have been built within the last 60 years, during the age when concrete was king. I had read that it is a tough and urban area which is way off the tourist route, but we felt perfectly safe throughout, although we received some bemused looks as we gaped in awe and snapped away!’

side view and spiral stairs hotel de ville bobigny

‘We knew the rough direction that we needed to head in, and when we emerged from the shopping centre, there was the awesome and majestic Hôtel de Ville directly in front of us, I actually got a tingle running up and down my neck! A genuinely wonderful piece of architecture’.

Facade city hall Bobigny

Hotel de Ville Architects: Marius Depont and Michel Holley ©

brutalist bobigny architecture

Préfecture, Bobigny ©

‘We wandered on past Brutalist estates and high-rise blocks, past the Modernist church, until we came to Brazilian genius Oscar Niemeyer’s labour exchange and 500 seat auditorium (La Bourse du Travail). Another real gem, but sadly not open the public on a Saturday afternoon.

‘We also visited La Defense, Créteil, Ivry Sur Seine, Les Orgues de Flandre, the UNESCO HQ in central Paris and the amazing Front de Seine as well as various other stop-offs and chanced upon wonders. We walked about 55km over the 3 days, but it was absolutely worth it to visit these architectural beauties. The Front de Seine complex is in the Beaugrenelle district of Paris, on the banks of the Seine in the 15th arrondissement. The whole area is filled with Modernist and Brutalist buildings, dating from the ’70s. There are hotels, residential and commercial buildings, and most eye-catchingly, 20 skyscrapers, all of a different design, and all almost 100 metres tall. The bases of these giants are all above street level, and you can wander among them away from any traffic’.

staircase on building in Front de Seine

Front de Seine Beaugrenelle ©

brutalist window detail and concrete

Espace 2000 Front de Seine Beaugrenelle ©

‘When we visited on a Sunday last September, the weather was appalling, with heavy rain. This just made the area even more deserted, and the experience was almost other-worldly. It felt as if I was walking in a retro-futuristic film set, with breathtaking views at every turn’. ‘The Chemical Brothers video for ‘Go’ was directed by Michel Gondry and filmed in this ‘modernist wonderland’.’

How to get there:

Bobigny: Metro to Bobigny from Paris, Pablo Picasso Metro Line 5 or Tram Line 1

Bobigny Hôtel de Ville, 31 Avenue du Président Salvador Allende 9-19, Rue du Chemin Vert

Bobigny Prefecture, 1 Esplanade Jean Moulin, 93000

Front de Seine: Metro to Charles Michels Metro Line 10

Tour Totem Quai de Grenelle, Front de Seine

Espace 2000 11 Rue de Javel, Front de Seine

Front de Seine Tower

Tour Totem, Front de Seine Beaugrenelle ©

Front de Seine Window

Front de Seine ©

Appreciating Brutalism: The Brutalism Appreciation Society

Murray shares, ‘the Brutalism Appreciation Society came into being on Facebook way back in March 2007 and started with just a few enthusiasts of this distinctive architectural style. One of the first members was Barnabas Calder, whose ‘Raw Concrete’ is the definitive book’.

‘Mark John Lighterness, another early member, is the administrator of the group which now has over 63,000 members. Several moderators were added to the group a couple of years back to help keep an eye on things, but Mark John is the backbone.
We try and moderate with a very light touch, and will only delete an item if it’s genuinely offensive or obviously spam. There are the occasional flare-ups, especially if someone posts a piece of PoMo and insists it is Brutalist, but these are generally good natured.
I have learned so much since becoming a member, and now look for ‘the local brute’ whenever I visit somewhere new. I was very pleased to find a beautiful, raw concrete, Modernist yacht club in Mallorca on holiday last week. A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it’.
a corner of Le Prefecture local police hq

Le Prefecture, Bobigny ©

Facade of Front de Seine Tower

Front de Seine ©

Brutalist buildings have been all over TV recently – Luther, Black Mirror, The Bodyguard, Little Drummer Girl, Killing Eve and more – have all featured classic examples of the style. This drip-feed of wonderful and iconic architecture is surely stirring an interest, and this is reflected in the BAS membership.
It’s a truly global group – we have requests to join from all over the world, and this renewed interest is by no means a UK-centric phenomenon. Lots of students, lots of creative and artistic people, and refreshingly few hipsters despite what some in the media would have you believe. Everyone is welcome, and we do love to see our members’ pictures of their favourite Bruts.
It’s ace to have a mixture of the ‘superstar’ buildings – Barbican, National Theatre, Trellick Tower and so on, amongst lesser known gems and concrete obscurities. Just this evening someone posted a picture of Pepper Middle School in Philadelphia built in the late 1960’s – a brand new building to me, and an absolute stunner’.

You can join the Brutalism Appreciation Society on Facebook

Murray Tompsett is on Instagram at WWW.Instagram.com/murray_tiptop/

brutalist architecture in bobigny
brutalist architecture Bobigny

Bobigny, Architect Oscar Niemeyer ©

All images are the Copyright of Murray Tompsett ©

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