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New Designers 2013: Beautiful Brutalism

New Designers 2013 Penny Allen

Denna Jones

The brethren of Brutalism tend to be a raucous and bullish tribe. Built of concrete in solid, spare, monolithic forms, the mid-twentieth century modern architectural style known as Brutalism polarises opinion in the same way knuckles tattooed with Love and Hate tend to send a mixed message to all who encounter the fists sporting them.

Lovers of Brutalism are vocal with opinions. Their online meet-up is a blog with an Anglo-Saxon expletive as a signature element of its URL. Suffice to say the majority of Brutalist supporters are men. But not all. Female fans include Penny Allen who exhibited at New Designers 2013 representing Hereford College of Arts. Allen quilts primarily white “whole cloth quilts” featuring architectural sections adapted from Brutalist and mid-twentieth century municipal architecture in Coventry. (cont’d)

PENNY ALLEN  Station quilt Coventry Station wall

“I grew up in Coventry surrounded by poured concrete” she explains. “I’m comforted by the endless repetition and intrigued by the relentlessly functional design”. Allen based her final degree collection on Coventry buildings. Three quilts are based on the Coventry Evening Telegraph building (not Brutalist but still a prime example of the now unloved style of prosaic mid-century municipal architecture) and a blue and white garage found behind the main building. Three generations of the Allen family (including Penny) worked for the local newspaper and were based in this building. The blue and white quilt Top Garage (below) is based on a bird’s eye view of the garage. Allen chose it because the garage has two of the elements she requires: detail and rhythm plus, she says, a rare bit of colour.

PENNY ALLEN Coventry Evening Telegraph garage

Asked how she decides what to include in her minimal designs, Allen says she looks for each building’s “design flairs” – angles, a curve, or asymmetric window placements, or – as seen in her quilt “Station” – an isolated red fire alarm found on a wall in Coventry train station (see first two images).

What will the fans of the expletive titled blog make of Allen’s Brutalist quilts? COVER reckons once word is out they will be queuing up to place their quilt orders, proving Allen does indeed have a “concrete” fan base.

– Denna Jones

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