Vulgar Architecture – Beginnings, Extension and History


What is Vulgar Architecture?

Vulgar architecture is so called because it is a poor architecture from the aesthetic point of view. It is represented in concrete buildings that lack decoration in their block-like structure that has gone out of fashion since the 1970s.

However, in order to fully appreciate and understand the style, it is important to understand the moral and historical implications of the movement. Edinburgh has a great legacy of vulgar architecture, which offers a wide diversity of examples, such as social housing blocks, university buildings or office buildings.

Another example of vulgar architecture is the so-called Versailles of Florida, so named for being gaudy and vulgar, but being quite closely related to baroque architecture, being very similar to that of the Parisian suburbs.

Some of the recurring criticisms expressed towards vulgar architecture is the lack of interest in architectural precedents or the surrounding area. Built just below Edinburgh Castle, Argyle House has been called a charmless eyesore, and has been threatened with demolition several times.

How did Vulgar Architecture develop?

This architecture developed at the end of World War II, when Europe faced an economic recession that forced a large part of the population into poverty. The British government undertook major social reforms, such as the creation of the NHS, to combat destitution. Mass housing construction was a rational solution to clean up slums and improve health conditions in British cities.

In Edinburgh, Leith was famous for its Victorian slums, where overcrowded streets were considered unfit for human habitation. So in 1963, the city council responded by creating a block of apartments. The architects of the project, drew much inspiration from the work of Le Corbusier in Marseille, and his Unité d’Habitation.

Using the external access decks to recreate a sense of community that already existed in the neighborhood, the designers were socially driven and furnished their building with modern heating and appliances. The building has a north-south orientation to give priority to natural light in the apartments. The repetition in the facade is broken by a slight shift in the axis towards the middle of the block, which gives the building its popular name, from the banana apartments.

Types of Vulgar Architecture

The types of this architecture can be considered neither historical nor popular. This architecture has only a utilitarian purpose, and has no links with historical architecture nor does it seek to highlight the artistic side of architecture. It is only a vulgar utilitarian architecture.

An example of this type of architecture are office buildings that do not follow an artistic style, but are designed for practical purposes, there are also buildings such as classrooms and schools, which are usually buildings of a sober character, even monotonous, without any kind of art incorporated.

This architecture has a high social component and its maximum representative is

Le Corbusier, with three types:

Of Columns, in which pillars are used to create open spaces that can be used by the community.

Terrace: which is used to maintain thermal insulation conditions and transforms the inner courtyard into a space for recreation.

Open plan: which is a concrete structure, without unnecessary walls, freeing the space from structural limits.

What is Vulgar Architecture

Main Representatives of Vulgar Architecture

One of the representatives of vulgar architecture are the identical buildings for social and middle class housing constructions, after the standardization that followed the industrial revolution of the last century. In which, the spatial and functional requirements are taken note of, in order to design the plans, layouts and elevations.

Other representatives are functional commercial buildings, depending on the type of space being designed. The success of the design of a commercial or public building depends largely on a smooth, self-guided circulation that optimizes the experience of the building’s users.

Generally, shopping centers are designed with vulgar architecture, in the functional sense, to allow shoppers to find their way around and get what they need easily, without getting lost or walking further than they should.

Legacy of this Vulgar Architecture

So-called brutalist architecture, is the legacy of vulgar architecture, and perhaps the best example in Edinburgh is the successful brutalist building of the Edinburgh University Main Library. When the architect was commissioned to design the new university library, which was to become the most important of the University’s future developments, he adopted a highly functional approach, while still taking care of the aesthetics of his building.

The façade of this University of Edinburgh building, for example, projects through porticoes that not only balance the proportions of the building, but also block natural light on the second floor.

Due to site constraints and regulations, the building has a footprint of one acre, but its presence is balanced by the composition of the façade. For example, the removal of vertical elements in the upper storefront makes the building appear slimmer. When completed in 1964, it was the largest university library in the United Kingdom. Today the building has received only minor changes and remains highly functional.