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(Credit: Far Out/Alamy/Simone Hutsch/Juan Giraudo


Exploring the brutalist structures of Stanley Kubrick film 'A Clockwork Orange'


Few films have made greater use of the UK’s brutalist architecture than Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Nestled somewhere between a state-of-the-nation documentary and a science-fiction dystopia, this continually unnerving and prescient film tells the story of Alex, the leader of a murderous adolescent gang known as The Droogs. We join him as he navigates a dismal version of post-war England, where he seduces murders and rapes his way into state-sanctioned incarceration.

Unlike Kubrick’s previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the majority of A Clockwork Orange was shot on-location. While the director’s decision to utilise the cold-blooded architecture of modernism was rooted in Anthony Burgess’ grim literary depiction of London and the home counties, it was also one of necessity. After 2001, the studios slashed Kubrick’s budget, asking him to demonstrate his ability to make films on minimal funds. He rose to the occasion, forfeiting expensive sets for contemporary architectural wonders.

In doing so, Kubrick found that he could use architecture to convey a sinister version of England rooted firmly in the present. With sets, the director’s vision of the future risked being reduced to a mere fantasy. Using real-world locations such as The Brunel University Lecture Hall, The Thamesmead Estate, and The Chelsea Drugstore, Kubrick reminded contemporary viewers that Burgess’s dystopian world had already arrived.

The brutalist structures of A Clockwork Orange:

Southmere Estate, Bexley

Location: 1 Overton Rd, Abbey Wood, London SE2 9SH.

One of the most famous brutalist structures to feature in A Clockwork Orange is the Southmere Estate in Bexley, Kent, where Alex launches two of his fellow droogs into a lake. Designed and constructed in two phases from 1967-72, the estate was intended to house 60,000 people and include schools, factories, shops, pharmacies, and basically everything a community needs to sustain itself. However, this grand plan was never fully realised, and much of the structure remains unbuilt.

The section that Kubrick ended up using was designed to include a mixture of townhouses and twelve storey medium-rise blocks, all connected by a series of interconnecting walkways. It was a utopian dream of modern urban living, but a combination of the oil crisis and a backlash from locals meant that the swimming pools, library, and town centre were never introduced.

Brunel University, London

Location: Kingston Ln, London, Uxbridge UB8 3PH.

Not all of London’s brutalist buildings suffered the anticlimactic fate of the Southmere Estate. The lecture theatre at Brunel University in Uxbridge, for example, is currently Grade II listed. The building was used to film the exterior shots of the Ludovico Medical Clinic, where Alex is strapped to a chair and brainwashed.

Designed by John Heywood and completed in 1966, Brunel University lecture theatre was built to expand the university campus. The structure is made of reinforced concrete, from which blocky capsule-style lecture theatres hang over the paving below, supported by concrete piers. Other parts of the Brunel University campus also feature in A Clockwork Orange, including the scenes in a police interrogation room, Alex’s hospital bed, and his apartment block lobby, which was filmed in Tower D and the John Crank building.

Chelsea Drugstore, London

Location: 49 Kings Road, SW3 London, UK.

As well as receiving an honourable mention in The Rolling Stones’ track ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, The Chelsea Drugstore also serves as the location for the disc-bootik where Alex picks up two young women browsing the latest releases. Modelled on Le Drugstore on Boulevard St Germain in Paris, this pharmacy-turned-bar and hangout extended over three floors and was once one of the trendiest spots in swinging London.

Most days, it remained open for 16 hours or so, offering customers a selection of bars, chemists, newsstands, record stores and the like. It was also famed for its unique ‘flying squad’ delivery service. Customers who used the service would have their purchases delivered by women dressed in purple catsuits, who would arrive on motorcycles, sidle up, and hand over the package personally.

New House, Shipton-Under-Wychwood

Location:  Shipton-under-Wychwood, Chipping Norton OX7 6BB.

Perhaps the most harrowing sequence in A Clockwork Orange was shot in two unique houses. To shoot the exterior and garden shots for the writer’s (Patrick Magee) home, Kubrick used New House in Shipton-Under-Wychwood, Chipping Norton.

This intensely private architectural marvel was designed by Stout and Litchfield for the London barrister Milton Grundy in 1964. Comprised of five slope-roofed units, connected by a winding Japanese gravel garden, this unique structure is constructed entirely out of local Cotswold Stone and slate, meaning that, while intensely modern in terms of design, it blends with the surrounding landscape.

Skybreak House, Radlett

Location: Skybreak, The Warren, Radlett, Hertfordshire, WD7 7DU.

For the interior shots, Kubrick used Skybreak House in Radlett, Hertfordshire, designed by Team 4 and completed in 1966. It is here that Mrs Alexander is raped and her husband is beaten, leaving him paraplegic.

One of the architectural quartet’s first projects, Skybreak, is divided into three stripes: the first is the public area, where the living room resides. The other two are home to the kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms. With tonnes of natural light and an expansive spatial quality, Skybreak represents the very pinnacle of modernist chic.