Where Do Zupagrafika Stand On Brutal Capitalism Destroying London Communities?

Zupagrafika are a Polish based design studio consisting of ex-pat Spaniard David Navarro and Martyna Sobecka. They seem to be best known for their flat packed cardboard models of brtualist buildings which consumers assemble at home. Their most successful collection appears to be Brutal London, which has been repackaged as a book by publishing conglomerate Random House’s imprint Prestel – with a foreword by Norman Foster. While all their models are fabulous examples of modernist architecture, we view the communities who live and work in these buildings as considerably more significant than the structures themselves. In recent years ‘regeneration’ has paved the way for the destruction of some of them, and the ‘social cleansing’ of working class communities from others.


We see recent struggles around Aylesbury Estate, Balfron Tower and Alton Estate as particularly significant from this point of view – and all are featured in Brutal London. Likewise, while Barbican Estate – also in Brutal London – has from its inception had a different social demographic to the other modernist icons we’ve just mentioned, its architectural cohesion and community are also threatened by a council desperate to sweat its assets; it is also closely linked to the Golden Lane Estate, an ensemble of social housing immediately to its north threatened by the same ‘free market’ forces  – and which was designed by the same architects as The Barbican. The Ledbury Estate also faces demolition, and the wrecking ball has already obliterated Robin Hood Gardens – again both featured in Brutal London. Coverage of Brutal London makes it clear that Zupagrafika are aware of these issues, and we assume the struggles associated with them:

Brutalist architecture might be more commonly associated with the former Soviet states, but London has plenty of fine examples of the oft-derided architecture. Zupagrafika’s models include the Balfron Tower and Space House tower blocks, as well as Robin Hood Gardens and the Aylesbury and Ledbury Estates.

“In 2014 we took part in London Design Week Festival where we were displaying our previous cut-out collection ‘Eastern Block.’ We decided then to have a closer look at London’s brutalist icons, such as Balfron Tower, as well as some council estates similar to the ones we get in Poland, and we discovered the ones we planned to visit—Heygate and Aylesbury—were already either partially or entirely demolished. It led us to think we should catalog them before they disappear. The whole collection is a brutalist tour similar to the ones we went on during our numerous visits to London,” Martyna Sobecka says.

The designers also took the time to talk to the residents of the buildings and, in some cases, got them to pose with the finished product, illustrating how lifelike the models really are. “As the process of documentation of all the buildings took some time, the residents at first were a bit puzzled by us taking countless photos and carefully studying the façade; however, with time, they seemed to have got used to our being around, some of them even approaching and asking about the project. We got some positive feedback, and hope they get to see and like the outcome,” Sobecka concludes.

The models have all the detailing of the actual buildings, down to the graffiti on the façade of Robin Hood Gardens and the “Demolition in progress: Keep out” sign that mars the exterior of the Aylesbury Estate. It’s a stark reminder that soon the models might be all that remains of these iconic buildings.

Brutal London by Zupagrafika by Cajsa Carlson, Cool Hunting, 11 February 2015.


With Balfron Tower’s working class community decanted to be replaced by rich ghost home investors, and similar things happening at other sites celebrated by Zupagrafika, just where do this design studio stand on such matters? Brutal London can all too easily be perceived as artwashing this social cleansing. Zupagrafika donating a percentage of the profits from the project to campaigns fighting against the displacement of the working class communities connected to these buildings would do a lot to stop Brutal London being seen by all sides in this battle as an uncritical celebration of gentrification and ‘free’ market forces.

Pippa Henslowe.



Brutal London by Zupagrafika by Cajsa Carlson: http://www.coolhunting.com/design/brutal-london-zupagrafika-paper-cutouts-architecture


3 thoughts on “Where Do Zupagrafika Stand On Brutal Capitalism Destroying London Communities?

  1. I first came across Zupagrafika’s ‘Brutal London’ series at the Hayward Gallery shop. I would have assumed that the makers of a product that derives profit from the image of a community being dismantled by free market forces would divert at least a percentage of their taking to support said community. But apparently not. While I admire Zupagrika’s design work their ideological blindness on this front is as shocking and distasteful as the Hayward Gallery’s decision to stock these models amongst the rest of the overpriced, brutalist themed merchandise in its naff little shop. The message is clear: brutalism (in miniature) is for the cultured, wealthy minority and no longer a pragmatical architectural and stylistic solution for accommodating ordinary people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. More reasons for Zupagrafika to clarify their position, which of course is best done not just with words but by contributing financially to a range of community campaigns against social cleansing in London…..


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