Brutal Food: The Rise of Minimalist Design in London’s Food Cultures

Brutal. Raw. Concrete.

The term “Brutalism” was coined by French architect Le Corbusier when referencing his use of béton brut (raw concrete). The term was then adapted by architectural critic Reyner Banham, who used “Brutalism” to refer to elements of the 20th-century style. Brutalist architecture is characterized by structures that have 
a raw nature, evoking a sense naked modernity. The style is easy to identify due to its unfinished surfaces and large, obtrusive masses.

For centuries, London has been recognized as a 
hub for Brutalism, with Brutalist structures ranging from the Barbican Arts Centre to the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank. And while Londoners did not always take to the Brutalist facades popping up all around their city, these structures are now widely recognized as crucial aspects of London’s architectural history and culture.

Today, Brutalist influences have started to appear in other industries – including the food industry. East London’s food cultures are a prime example of these shifts and trends, which can be seen in everything
 from food packaging, to restaurant design, to brand story. This shift begs the question: Are these Brutalist influences merely a trend, or will they be foundational to the future of the industry?

Food Packaging

Brutalist influences are changing the ways in which food is packaged. Just as Brutalist buildings stand out against London’s other architectural backgrounds, Brutal foods are intended to stand out on the shelf. Because this method involves the use of raw and natural materials, Brutalist food packaging is ideal for showcasing foods made with natural, holistic, and healthy ingredients. Using this style helps to create a consumer perception of artisanship, craftsmanship, and sustainability. Similarly, the food industry is bringing back traditional boxed food packaging and more geometric shapes.

Brutalist materials, such as wood, crate paper, and handwritten typography, make products feel local and personal. They create a sense of authenticity and encourage consumers to build trust with brands and products from a place of relatability and realness.

Restaurant Design

Brutalist buildings evoke a sense of escape from the norm. Their rigidity creates clean, simplistic lines and perceptions of order, further facilitating a sense of calm. In the food industry, Brutalist design principles are moving beyond ingredients and products and into restaurant interiors and experiences. Restaurants are choosing to use classic materials like concrete, wood, scaffolding, bare brick, and metals rather than upscale, clean materials. In fact, walking into a coffee shop in East London may feel more like walking into a warehouse than a place for afternoon tea.

Take, for example, Attendant, a hipster coffee bar situated in Shoreditch that bases their design philosophy and experience on the concept of creating something “perfectly imperfect.” They take cues from the environment around the store, repairing and upcycling materials and furniture. Each café is designed and curated with its environment in mind using natural materials like white wash and zinc countertops to create a Brutalist, modern environment.

East London’s Brutalist Tour

Architecture:

The Barbican Centre/The Barbican Estate, Salters’ Hall, Keeling House

Adding to the London skyline, the iconic architecture from the 1950s is still occupied, adored, and despised 
by many.

Coffee:

The Attendant, Ozone Coffee Roasters, C.R.E.A.M. (a café by Protein Studios), Monmouth Coffee

These cafés, which have embraced the Brutalist culture, are some of our regular hangouts.

Dinner:

Rök

This fairly new restaurant venue has wood and concrete-based interiors and serves “Brutal” food.

Departure Questions

/ How might companies strategically use Brutalist design principles in order to create more natural, authentic products and experiences?

/  What if the human interactions of experience design were inspired
by the same principles? What could this look like?

/  What if there was a Brutalist digital user experience? What would a more natural, raw, concrete online experience look like?

the author

Alexis Scobie

Alexis Scobie is an innovation strategist at Idea Couture.

the author

Kishan Wadhia

Kishan is a designer at Idea Couture Inc. He is based in London, UK.