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Kickin’ it – Sneakers Inspired by Concrete


In case you aren’t on twitter, I sometimes tweet about sneakers and very often rant about preservation and Brutalism. I love all three things mentioned above and I’m a passionate advocate for the preservation of the concrete buildings from the 1960s and ‘70s, you know…buildings like Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles’ Boston City Hall and Paul Rudolph's Government Service Center, just down the street from City Hall. I think these are important buildings for reasons too many to list here, but enough about Brutalism and let’s get to the topic of this post: sneakers and well, Brutalism.

Lately I’ve been noticing a new trend in the world of sneakers--footwear companies interested in highlighting this very much maligned architectural style. Converse, a Nike-owned company (as of September 2012) recently collaborated with the father of Brazilian modernism—the Pritzker Prize winning architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012). Influenced by Le Corbusier, Niemeyer took on many commissions throughout his long career, designing office and apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, hotels, theaters and museums, all constructed using reinforced concrete. His architecture is instantly recognizable for its sweeping curves, shallow arches and sculptural forms. Best known for his works in Brasilia, Niemeyer is considered one of the most important architects in the development of modernist architecture throughout South America and the world.

The sneakers are as clean and elegant as Niemeyer’s architecture is. The lace guard, midsole, collar and tongue executed in contrasting white, beige and red certainly recall the bold lines in his buildings around Brasilia.

My favorites are these hightops with a handwritten poem by Niemeyer, reproduced on the upper part of the sneaker. This blog post in The Guardian suggests that Niemeyer took advantage of this collaboration with Converse to make a political statement through this hightops seen above, but I haven’t seen these beauties in person so I can’t speculate on this matter. (I would love a pair though and then maybe I'll speculate)

The new buzz phrase on twitter is "Footwear for Fashion Conscious New Brutalists" and the phrase fits rightly so (and a phrase that I love by the way) since these sneakers are either designed by modernist architects in collaboration with footwear companies or they pay tribute to Brutalist masters like Sir Denys Lasdun (1914—2001). Inspired by Sir Denys Lasdun, who in the 1960s was Britain's most admired architect and best known for his Royal National Theatre in London, Vans will release this coming Spring the next model in their OTW series — the Lasdun "Grey."

These Vans Lasdun are made of perforated grey nubuck and pig suede with a white midsole, adding a very nice contrast to that beautiful concrete grey color of the sneaker. The perforations definitely give these sneakers a béton brut kind-of-feel to them — that unfinished or roughly-finished raw concrete texture from which the name "brutalism" is said to come from. Thanks to Lasdun scholar Barnabas Calder (@BrutalConcrete) for bringing these handsome beauties to my attention.

So what’s next? Here I am dreaming of the day I get to rock a pair of sneakers inspired by Boston City Hall, Paul Rudolph, John Johansen or Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital—now those I’d definitely "cop" as the sneakerheads say these days.

All images of the Converse x Oscar Niemeyer Collection are by Converse via Kicks On Fire.

All images of the Vans Lasdun - launching Spring 2013 via Sneaker Freaker.


About Author

Anulfo AKA The Evolving Critic is a preservationist and blogger with a strong interest in architectural history, urbanism, and the parallels between fashion and architecture. He holds degrees in Tourism Planning and Development from the University of New Hampshire and in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University. Anulfo has written for the Boston Society of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He oversaw BR&S's blog, Our Daily Red, from 2012-14.

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