Beton Lust, 2012. Written for Bearded Eloise zine.
When I was growing up, I lived next to Spaghetti Junction. I suppose that is where the obsession with concrete structures started. Even when I was young, I remember feeling excitement whenever I travelled on it - the way it looked as you approached it on the top deck of a bus or on the backseat of a car. I liked walking underneath it and staring up at it, admiring the strong concrete pillars and complicated design. I could see it from my bedroom window, with the constant hum of the traffic working as a brilliant soundtrack to the hideous concrete installation. The first time I ever masturbated, I was looking at it.
I was around tower blocks a lot as a child. Both of my grandparents lived on a council estate (the estate which I now live on) and I remember being fixated with these structures that seemed to go on forever, with their endless windows and balconies. They seemed to have come from another planet, with their sole purpose to dwarf everything around it and impose on people's lives. There was something deeply appealing about them. I would visit the grandfather I didn't like just to be able to go inside one of them. I used to enjoy riding up and down in the piss-soaked lift, walking the dimly-lit corridors and sitting in his flat, taking everything in. I wanted to rub my face against the walls, throw myself against them, strip the rooms bare and back to the raw concrete. From the front bedrooms of my other grandparents council house, I could see a tower block poking through in between the rows of houses. I used to sit and look at it, admiring its shape and wondering what was going on inside. One of those bedrooms is now my bedroom and I still sit and look at that tower block. It still makes me think, it still excites me, it still turns me on.
My first encounter with Brutalism would have been Birmingham's glorious Central Library. Again, I used to be in awe of that building as a child and it is still my favourite building in Birmingham. The outside and inside of that building has provided me with endless excitement - the weird, grey, concrete shapes on the outside and the beige, square concrete ceiling on the inside. Central Library is the place where I had my first consensual sexual experience and I do not believe that is a coincidence. I didn't just choose to go there because it would be warm and had toilets. I was drawn in by the architecture. In a way, I feel like I fucked the building rather than the girl I was with. On the way to the third floor toilets, I kept touching and stroking the bare concrete walls. I felt its different textures and explored the shapes and dents. That was my foreplay. It turned me on. I touched the walls more than I touched the girl I was with.
When I was 14, I saw A Clockwork Orange for the first time. I watched scenes from it every day for the next two months. Whilst I love the story and the film as a whole, I mainly became obsessed with the scenes which included concrete subways, the Thamesmead estate and the interiors of the Municipal Flatblock. Kubrick made these places look futuristic, beautiful, sleazy and violent. Everything I had imagined about tower blocks and concrete was being projected right before my eyes. I would replay and pause these scenes while I masturbated. Two years later, I started reading J.G. Ballard. High Rise brought to life the violence and chaos I had imagined going on within tower blocks. Concrete Island and Crash made me rethink my earlier infatuation with Spaghetti Junction. And yes, my favourite music video is Suede's Animal Nitrate.
I like the way concrete feels; cold, unwelcoming and either strangely soft or extremely rough. I like the way it feels against my skin. I like the way concrete looks; grey, ever changing, easily stained. I like imagining what is going on in each of the windows of a tower block, as the lights go on and off. Sex, arguments, drug abuse, all-night parties, violence, loneliness. I like imagining myself in all of those situations and how I would react not only to the people, but to the building. How would the concrete stairs feel as I fell down them after getting into a fight at the top of them? What kind of marks would it leave? How would the bare, undecorated concrete walls feel on my bare back as someone fucked me up against it? How would the concrete railings on the balcony feel in my hand as I held myself up whilst giving head?
Komplex Leipziger Strasse, Berlin.
When I first went to Berlin, I was confronted with this development on a daily basis as my hotel overlooked it. I could have happily spent the whole time being fucked by my lover as I looked out of the window at the towering constructions. And it would have been the plattenbau that turned me on rather than him.
(Pre-Urban Splash) Park Hill, Sheffield.
A beautiful, sprawling, concrete wet dream. I want to get lost in the streets of the sky, meet a stranger and get them to fuck me on the roof. My skin would react to the touch of the damp, decaying concrete. And Pulp's Sheffield: Sex City would be playing, obviously.
Shakespeare Tower, Barbican Complex, London.
I still remember the first time I ever saw this. I was in absolute shock and awe. It looked flat and I convinced myself that it was flat. It was incredibly huge and phallic. I got neck ache from looking up at it. The concrete is stained, the building is bizarre. It is perfect. The second time I went there I got fingered on the bridge that connects the tube station and the complex. The sight of it and the traffic noise added to my arousal.
The tower blocks on New John Street West, Birmingham.
I pass these tower blocks when I return home from band rehearsal. They look stunning in the dark; lined up and lit up. The stairwells look particularly inviting. I imagine having sex with my lover in one of the stairwells. The back lighting would make us look like silhouettes to the audience on the main road.
Trellick Tower, London.
This is possibly my favourite building in the UK. It looks otherworldly; its wonderful greyish beige colour and the balconies are very interesting to study. The lift tower and its connecting corridors are what I like the most. I want to ride up and down in the lift and I want a different person to meet me at each connecting corridor and fuck me in their corridor.
Despite all of this, I don't think I am going to get arrested for trying to shag the entire Barbican complex any time soon.
/ Olivia Sparrow