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Suburban Gothic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Suburban Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction, film and television, focused on anxieties associated with the creation of suburban communities, particularly in the United States, from the 1950s and 1960s onwards. It often, but not exclusively, relies on the supernatural or elements of science fiction that have been in wider Gothic literature, but manifested in a suburban setting.

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Everyday I ride my bike past this massive beast of a building called the Robarts Library. A monstrous, multi-faceted complex with the footprint of an equilateral triangle in heart of the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. It houses the university's main humanities and social sciences library. And depending on who you ask, has been an iconic architectural monument, or the biggest ugliest eyesore of the Toronto landscape for over 40 years. You may have seen monstrous buildings like this one yourself. These geometric fortress like buildings - usually made of rugged, unfinished concrete - rose up all around the world during the mid 20th century. Originating in Western Europe, it quickly also spread to many cities in Eastern Europe, North America, and reaching as far as Brazil, Israel, Japan and Australia. These types of buildings have since been collectively defined by architectural critics and writers as “Brutalism.” The term “Brutalism" was popularized by British architectural critics of the 1950s. While it’s obvious to English speakers that the term was derived from the word "brutal" meaning crude and and harsh. It actually also originates from the French words “Beton Brut” meaning “Raw Concrete”. Of course not all concrete buildings are brutalist. And in fact not all brutalist buildings are necessarily made of concrete. But a defining principal of Brutalism is an overt focus on material itself and attention to the sculptural form. But Brutalism is not just aesthetics, it's also a philosophy. In the mid-20th century it became associated with the “anti-bourgeois” and “socially progressive.” And supporters of brutalist architecture saw them as bold monuments of egalitarianism and democracy. During the post war decades of the 1950s and 60s, there was a strong reaction among many designers, architects and the general public against both the overly ornamental styles of Beaux Art architecture, as well as the rigid, “glass-box” forms of the International Style. Many associated “shiny glass towers" with the wealthy, privileged elite. And to many progressive thinkers - Brutalism was the more honest, unpretentious and egalitarian approach to architecture. For the most part, Brutalism was a favoured style of public or institutional buildings such as government facilities, libraries, universities, museums, and social housing. Concrete is a product that is relatively inexpensive, plentiful and accessible. The heavy and enclosed building envelope with limited glazing made it easier for climate control, thus making it economically sensible and practical for institutional use, which in turn also symbolized a degree of modesty and public accountability. Brutalists placed heavy emphasis on the exposure of structural materials and celebrated the internal functional use of the building. This approach may not seem unique to us today, but at the time it was a departure from previous styles. Many classical buildings are adorned with elaborate facades that have no connection to the building’s function, and the International Style of the 20s and 30s often aimed to conceal or deemphasize a building’s structure. The Boston City Hall is an example of where the designers overly expressed the building's functional volumes through heavily articulated protrusions on the facade. It also aimed to link the exterior public space with the interior by extending the paved brick material of the public plaza into the interior atrium space. Brutalist architecture also often aimed to connect with a building’s local context. The Kyoto International Conference centre, situated on the beautiful shores of Lake Takaragaike - utilized a triangular base to compliment the forms of the surrounding mountains, while its inverted triangle is inspired by the shape of a traditional Japanese Pagoda. Gerhard Kallmann, one of the principal designers of the Boston City Hall stated that "We have reacted against an architecture that is absolute, uninvolved and abstract. We have moved towards an architecture that is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context ... rather than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place ... without identity or presence." Whether Brutalist structures today still embody the once promising utopian dream of social progressivism is debatable, and perhaps entirely dismissible. In popular culture, especially film, Brutalist buildings have been used extensively in futuristic, dystopic films such as A Clockwork Orange, and Bladerunner. Toronto’s Robart’s Library was actually used for exterior shots of the zombie film Resident Evil: Afterlife, while the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus Meeting Place was used for Interior Shots of the Prison scenes. In a way, Brutalism has become synonymous with dystopian films - similar to how Gothic is synonymous with horror films. But just like how many Gothic buildings can be breathtakingly beautiful despite being associated with the horror genre. Many brutalist buildings have become iconic for being associated with the dystopian genre. Over the years, many once abhorred Brutalist buildings have evolved into deeply treasured and loved landmarks by its citizens. Architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable once called the former Whitney Museum “the most disliked building” in the city when it first opened in 1966. Later she would go on to praise it for its “thoughtful planning and sensitive artistry in the use of materials” and as a “museum raised to the level of architectural art.” Today - the legacy of Brutalist architecture is complicated but its ideas and have lived on in the works of many contemporary designers and artists. There’s a growing appreciation for Brutalist works, but unfortunately there is also a growing risk of Brutalist buildings being demolished. Many already have been. And maybe you think they’re ugly and should be demolished. But some of us grew up surrounded by its towering walls and it has since taken on a historic and personal importance for us. And maybe if you look a little more closely - you may begin to appreciate the artistic beauty in its rugged, monumental sculptural form. Thank for watching everyone. I would love to know what some of your favourite Brutalist buildings are in the comments below. And if you're interested in watching more videos about art, design and architecture - feel free to hit the subscribe button right over here and I will see you guys next time! Subtitles by the community


Suburban Gothic is defined by Bernice M. Murphy as "a subgenre of the wider American Gothic tradition which dramatises anxieties arising from the mass urbanisation of the United States and usually features suburban settings, preoccupations and protagonists".[1] She argues that a common trope of the suburban Gothic is the danger within a family or neighbourhood, rather than an external threat.[2] Teenagers and children are often major protagonists or sources of threat and characteristic conflicts often focus on issues of individuality and conformity.[3]

Important early works identified with the subgenre include Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954) and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (1959).[4] Works that incorporate environmental concerns include Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (1972), Anne Rivers Siddons's The House Next Door (1978) and the Todd Haynes film Safe (1995).[5] Important films include versions of these written works and Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982).[6] Several works by David Lynch, notably the television series Twin Peaks and the film Blue Velvet have been identified as part of the suburban gothic subgenre.[7] Films with threats from a female protagonist, including Fatal Attraction (1987) and Disclosure (1994) have also been identified as part of the genre.[8] In addition, films that feature a more character-driven or dramatic standpoint also inform the genre notably Todd Solondz's Happiness, Sam Mendes's American Beauty, and Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko. TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and Desperate Housewives have also been seen as dealing with concerns about hidden Gothic worlds behind the suburban façade.[9] The 2011 Australian film Snowtown also concerns suburban gothic themes.[citation needed] Other films described as within the suburban gothic genre include Carrie (1976), Halloween (1978), The Amityville Horror (1979),[10] Fright Night (1985), The Stepfather (1987),[11] The 'Burbs (1988),[12] Parents (1989),[12] Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990),[12] The People Under the Stairs (1991),[11] Serial Mom (1994),[11] Little Children (2006),[11]The Girl Next Door (2007), The Sisterhood of Night (2014), The Invitation (2015),[11] and It (2017).

See also


  1. ^ B. M. Murphy, The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), ISBN 0-230-21810-5, p. 2.
  2. ^ B. M. Murphy, The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), ISBN 0-230-21810-5, p. 3.
  3. ^ B. M. Murphy, The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), ISBN 0-230-21810-5, pp. 2–3.
  4. ^ B. M. Murphy, The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), ISBN 0-230-21810-5, p. 15.
  5. ^ B. M. Murphy, The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), ISBN 0-230-21810-5, p. 4.
  6. ^ J. E. Hogle, The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ISBN 0-521-79466-8, p. xxv.
  7. ^ The Anadromist (2012) American Gothic Films: An Incomplete List . The Anadromous Life, [blog] November 7, 2012, Available at: [Accessed: December 9, 2012].
  8. ^ K. I. Michasiw, "Some stations of sub-urban Gothic", in R. K. Martin and E. Savoy, eds, American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative (University of Iowa Press, 2009), ISBN 1-58729-349-8, p. 240.
  9. ^ B. M. Murphy, The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), ISBN 0-230-21810-5, p. 166.
  10. ^ Hughes, William (2015). The Encyclopedia of the Gothic. John Wiley & Sons.
  11. ^ a b c d e Crow, Charles L. (2013). A Companion to American Gothic. John Wiley & Sons.
  12. ^ a b c Mulvey-Roberts, Marie (1998). The Handbook to Gothic Literature. NYU Press.
This page was last edited on 10 August 2018, at 13:13
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