Concrete and wonders: brutalism in video games

What does it mean to recreate, rebuild or construct a Brutalist building in a video game?

Brutalist architecture is characterized by hard, imposing forms, exposed concrete and often silhouettes evoking the mold of the material used. These buildings, generally large in scale, feature exposed functional elements, lending their design a certain rigor and raw aesthetic. The Brutalist movement emerged in the late 1940s as an expression of seriousness and austerity, in reaction to the architectural styles of previous decades. It was quickly adopted for the reconstruction of urban spaces devastated by the Second World War, due to its inexpensive building materials and minimalist forms.

Although the term brutalism wasn’t officially used until the 1950s, with Swedish architect Hans Asplund referring to the Villa Goeth as an example of “New Brutalism”, the movement has evolved over the decades into what we know today. Raw concrete, repeated modular elements and imposing forms are now an integral part of the brutalism aesthetic, one that transcends the boundaries between different architectural schools. Although this style can be associated with other architectural movements such as deconstructivism, suprematism or structural expressionism, it is distinguished by its simplicity and rawness.

Unité d'habitation du Corbusier
Unité d’habitation du Corbusier

The term Brutalism has its origins in French, specifically in the expression “béton brut”. This distinctive characteristic of the movement – a concrete surface exposed or left rough and unfinished – became its trademark. Architect Le Corbusier and his iconic Unité d’Habitation played a key role in the emergence of Brutalism. This structure, built in reinforced concrete, embodied Le Corbusier’s vision of a “machine à vivre”, a space that meets all the needs of its occupants. This concept, resolutely modern, progressive and sometimes even utopian, remains inseparable from its socio-historical context. Brutalist buildings are more than just architectural structures; they are entities in their own right, symbols of power and presence.

Concrete & dystopia

The fascination with Brutalism as a source of architectural inspiration for video games is easy to understand. Its raw forms provide the ideal material for level designers to build their virtual worlds. These structures also have the power to arouse the imagination and draw the eye with their dramatic forms and monumental proportions, captivating and shocking at the same time. By the time the Nintendo Entertainment System was launched in the mid-1980s, brutalism was, so to speak, dead and buried. However, the ghostly image of these structures remained and was recreated in virtual worlds as a kind of collective screen burn.

Videogame brutalism, in its ascendancy, embraces industrial materials with determined fervor. Concrete, steel, glass – these cold, functional materials take center stage, lending virtual worlds a raw, austere atmosphere. Rough textures and unrefined surfaces add a palpable dimension to the player’s experience, offering tangible contact with these virtual structures. Minimalism becomes a sacred credo in videogame brutalism. Superfluous ornamentation is rejected, giving way to a refined, pragmatic aesthetic. Simple geometric forms evoke an intrinsic functionality, revealing the primacy of structure in the design of Brutalist virtual environments.

The dizzying Manifold Garden
The dizzying Manifold Garden

The sources of inspiration for videogame brutalism are rooted in artistic and architectural movements. Abstract Expressionism, Russian Constructivism and Surrealism, among others, irrigate its essence. These influences blend and transform, ingeniously adapted to create captivating, aesthetically striking virtual worlds. Videogame brutalism is a fusion of ideas, a dialogue between art and game, architecture and narrative, giving life to artistic experiences of unparalleled conceptual power.

In this way, this trend blossoms, embracing raw geometric forms, industrial materials and minimalist aesthetics. In this artistic and conceptual thrust, he transcends the boundaries between video games and architecture, offering players an unprecedented sensory immersion. With a bold vision, he transports us to unexplored horizons where beauty is found in austerity, where grandeur is found in simplicity.


It’s in the esoteric appreciation of the power and dread of brutalism that his recent resurgence of interest lies. Within restricted circles, it links up with similar interests in clean design and eerie soundscapes. In other words, brutalism is gradually emerging in the world of video games, through works of colossal scope which, thanks to the freedom offered by their digital form, allow the full aesthetic potential to be explored.


Among these works, NaissanceE undeniably stands out as the most accomplished example. It takes players on a fascinating journey through brutalist environments of unsettling beauty. The fusion of brutalist architectural design with evocative sound design elements creates a unique immersive experience, where the grandeur and hostility of the architecture blend with striking soundscapes to envelop players in an enigmatic and profound atmosphere.

There’s something almost sacrilegious about trying to describe the sensations you experience as you move through the world of NaissanceE. It’s a game of measured exploration, of private and solitary introspection. Whether we’re threading our way between low openings in stacks of cubic rubble, or tumbling from one barely visible precipice to another in an enormous, gray-scale pit, the pace of understanding and navigating the game’s bizarre architecture is slow. And because NaissanceE’s setting is composed of such strange sights and sounds, the time it offers for personal reflection often leads the player’s mind to enigmatic, numinous places where wonder and terror intertwine.


Unlike the level design of a studio like Valve, which uses visual cues to suggest intuitive paths, NaissanceE developer Limasse Five deliberately obscures the way ahead for much of its game. The player often stumbles through dark areas, slowly shifting the first-person viewpoint in the hope of catching a glimpse of light or blurred illumination. Often, once a path has been found, the way it is to be followed seems wrong. Tiny steps, so small they seem almost decorative, spring from the side of a wall overlooking a mile-long waterfall; a dark, seemingly endless shaft lurks in the shadows behind a huge pillar. Everything the player knows about safety advises him to find another way forward. But NaissanceE quickly teaches that the most counter-intuitive path is often the right one.


The world’s brutalist design – perfectly rectangular air ducts, giant slabs of smooth, featureless walls – suggests an alien functionality to what appears to the audience as absurdity. As Lucy, the protagonist of NaissanceE, the player feels insignificant in structures that alternate between sprawling, open enormity and claustrophobic narrowness. Everything is designed to make the player feel either far too large to inhabit a physical space, or so small as to have nothing to do with the gigantic scale of an area.


The most influential work of Brutalist architecture in recent history was completed in 2019 and welcomes over a million visitors a year. Known simply as Oldest House, Manhattan’s monolithic skyscraper is the backdrop against which the acclaimed video game Control is set. Developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by 505 Games, the representation of architecture in Control gives us a strong reading of contemporary sensibility and desire. It’s worth taking the Oldest House seriously as an architectural object in its cultural context.

Nothing has taken better advantage of the cultural whirlwind that is brutalism than Control. The building is the contemporary analogue of a haunted house; thanks to its digital form, the building itself can move and shift as if it were alive (which is explicitly implied in the game’s story). The building is a character with its own impersonal, shadowy autonomy, but the player’s role is to purge the house of an infection caused by a hostile supernatural force called the Hiss. The building’s alienating, silent spaces create an unforgiving environment, blurring the exact obstacles you face and their objectives. Are you fighting the house itself or its infection? Is the house my enemy or my ally?


An examination of specific examples of sampled architecture reveals that the game is not limited to brutalism. In Control, The Office refers to the Oldest House as a “place of power”, a significant paranormal structure that acts as a nexus to potentially infinite alternate realities. The game signals this property by centralizing every space you visit, which is codified by mass, structure, depth, surface, repetition and symmetry. Combined with the borrowing of so many varied works, the result is an architecture that is less a vague commentary on brutalism’s ability to overwhelm or alienate, than on institutionality – even the Mad Men-style mid-century office furniture reinforces the banality of the bureaucratic work that typically takes place in this eldritch structure. This desire has been realized not only in video games, but also in recent films and TV series. The Control Office exudes the same institutional atmosphere as the Time Variance Authority (TVA) in Disney+’s Loki series, or the offices of Lumon Industries in Apple TV+’s Severance series.


Control transcends the idea of brutalism entirely, and instead expands to become a dramatic demonstration of the surprising power of narrative space. Thanks to the expansion of cultural technologies around digital space, we can begin to use architecture to engage audiences in innovative ways. Video games, in particular, offer experiences that go far beyond the original conception of digital architecture, and the rapid expansion of the medium suggests that the language and discourse of architecture itself will have to adapt. What will happen when we can no longer search for singular styles in digital environments programmed to change?

The virtual physicality of brutalism

Critics of Brutalist architecture have repeatedly stressed their opposition to its most superficial features: its coldness, its harshness, and the threat inherent in its abrupt postures.

What they mean by this is its lack of humanity, which, in a way, is its true focal point. Brutalism is an idiom for architecture as a body of its own; it becomes an entity separate from the touch of its creator; it is alive and intimidating, a creature formed from the city that rises with rock-sharp muscles, an imposing mass of concrete. The pharaohs and ancient Mayan kings understood well the imposing power that brutalist forms possess. Their pyramids and prisms of hard stone shoot up beyond the verdant canopies and desert sands to the sky, with demanding oblique angles, steep but functional staircases.

La Coldridge Prison de Dishonored
The Coldridge’s Prison of Dishonored

It’s intimidating in its grandeur and purity of design. What brutalism’s detractors don’t appreciate is its construction devoid of elegance and decoration. On the contrary, these buildings are monolithic threats, hostile on the outside and as insurmountable as a warning. We don’t just look at this architecture, we observe it like a Cyclops, constantly conquering us.

In some circles, it merges with similar interests in clean design and disruptive soundscapes. In other words, brutalism is gradually emerging in video games through works of gigantic size, and thanks to the freedom of their digital form, they can further explore their aesthetic potential. NaissanceE is, without doubt, the most accomplished of these exhibitions. Other projects include works by Orihaus, Devine Lu Linvega, Friend & Foe, Ezra Hanson-White, Strangethink, Johannes Poell, Murat Pak, Moshe Linke and others.

Brutalism, although born in the field of architecture, has found fertile new ground in video games. This interactive medium enables virtual worlds to be explored and materialized in an unprecedented way, offering game designers a creative palette for experimenting with new aesthetics. By applying the principles of Brutalism to the design of virtual environments, video games offer a unique immersive experience, highlighting the distinctive characteristics of this architectural movement.


This medium makes it possible to fully exploit and explore the unique characteristics of brutalism. From the oppressive, dystopian feeling it generates, to the exploration of new worlds and reflection on the human condition and society, videogame brutalism unfolds its full artistic and conceptual potential.

Brutalism Liminal

Liminal spaces, by their ambiguous, transitional nature, have a particular aesthetic that intrigues and fascinates. They refer to those intermediate spaces, often ignored or neglected, that lie between clearly defined states or places. These places of threshold and interstice evoke a sense of mystery and uncertainty, creating an immersive experience where the boundary between reality and fiction, interior and exterior, becomes blurred.

It’s interesting to note that Brutalism has a close relationship with the aesthetics of liminal spaces. Indeed, they share the same ambiguity and inherent indeterminacy. Brutalist architecture is characterized by a powerful visual expression of transition and the in-between. Raw, massive geometric forms, industrial materials and rough textures create an architectural language that transcends traditional categories. Brutalism thus becomes the architectural expression of liminal spaces. Brutalist structures mediate transitions between spaces. They create zones of passage and connection, places where the boundaries between inside and outside, between different functions and uses, become blurred. Brutalist buildings also highlight areas of indeterminacy and tension, inviting occupants to explore limits and boundaries.

A bit of brutalism in Minecraft
A bit of brutalism in Minecraft

In video games, brutalism and liminal spaces marry and reinforce each other. Brutalist architecture becomes a vehicle for liminal spaces, amplifying their emotional and philosophical impact. Moments of transition and uncertainty take on a tangible dimension, embodied in raw forms and oppressive spaces. Game mechanics intertwine with aesthetics and philosophy, creating an immersive experience where players are invited to explore, question and challenge themselves.

It’s worth pointing out that this fusion of brutalism and liminality isn’t confined solely to the videogame domain. Striking examples of this combination can be found in other forms of artistic expression, including literature, cinema and contemporary art. This convergence testifies to the relevance and richness of the Brutalist aesthetic in representing spaces of transition and the boundaries of human experience.

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