Does Brutalism have a place in pen design? Hands on with the Namisu Naos Ti

When I get a pen in for review, I often sit with a blank sheet of paper in front of me and freely jot down the observations or ideas that occur to me about it. With the Namisu Naos, one of the first things I wrote down was ‘Brutalist’.

Its severe, angular barrel in matte titanium struck me as the pen equivalent of Brutalist architecture: big, blocky, geometric, concrete-grey.

Inside the UK's New Attack on Brutalism,Royal National Theatre, London. Image © Studio Esinam / Rory Gardiner

Then I read up on the pen on Namisu’s site and found that this resemblance was intentional.

Brutalism has gone through its ups and downs over the decades. Personally, I love it as an architectural style. It’s honest, functional, consciously breaking with the ornamentation of the past. It puts the materials front and centre. It’s durable and uncompromising. Stark. But you’ll also see it called ugly, cold, grim. You’ll rarely see it called beautiful, and never ‘comfortable’.

So what should we think of a Brutalist pen?

The Naos isn’t made of concrete (although Ben Walsh and 22 Design make those). It’s made of titanium through and through, from the faceted bead-blasted barrel to the satin section and cylindrical satin cap. Mine was supplied with a Bock #6 titanium nib, too.

Brutalist adjectives certainly apply: durable, stark, unornamented. Cold, for sure, in the metal. It’s all straight lines, flat ends.

Uncomfortable? It’s leaning that way. The facets of the octagonal barrel and its slightly rough texture are not sharp, but they’re noticeable on my hand. And the cap threads and the lip between the barrel and the cap are distinctly sharp.

Steer clear of the sharp zone and it’s not all plain sailing: the satin-finish section is just slippery enough to annoy me, even though it’s long and has a subtle flare at the nib end.

I find the straight, long, faceted barrel very attractive, and Namisu have executed it well. The finishing is even. The logo is deeply etched into one of the sides, and it looks great. Like, really great. I could go on about this for a while.

But the cap is cylindrical, it lacks the brooding darkness of the bead-blasted barrel, and… I just don’t much like how the two parts look next to each other (in a way that never bothered me on the Ixion, where the cap is faceted and the barrel cylindrical).

But the bit that I really don’t like is the end of the cap, where a thin disc has knurled edging.

This knurling has a purpose — it lets you unscrew the disc with bare fingers to fit the optional clip — and in that sense it’s not incompatible with the Brutalist ideals, but the relatively ornate texture just doesn’t sit well with the rest of the pen.

The clip is an £8.50 optional extra, made of sturdy bent metal, and it mounts well. But honestly, it detracts from the visual clarity of the design. Most of Namisu’s pens are proudly clipless, and I kinda wonder why they decided to add complexity to the design to make one available with the Naos in particular. I took mine off early and haven’t felt the need to put it back on.

The EF/F titanium nib I received writes a beautifully precise line — Bock’s ti nibs have in the past been very inconsistent, but I have had two from Namisu in total (I bought another one a few months ago) and they’ve both been spot on. So either I’ve got lucky with Bock or Namisu is doing some proper quality control.

In the hand (slight comfort issues aside) the size, 28g uncapped weight, and balance of the Naos are great. It really is an ideal size.

And it’s very practical as a daily user. The cap unscrews in 0.75 turns — although the threads can bind and jam if you’re not careful when capping again. The octagonal barrel serves as roll-stop and in the event of a tumble, the robust Ti construction ensures durability. The only ding that some might have is that it doesn’t post.

The Naos is currently on sale in titanium at £93, with bronze and aluminium versions available. The clip is another £8.50 and the Ti nib somewhere in the region of £50, although it’s currently sold out at Namisu. So you’re talking £150, a pretty competitive market.

Normally this is where I point out all the other pens you could get that are similar but cheaper or better, but really the Naos is a very distinctive design, borne from a bolt of inspiration. If you like the look of it, a more traditional pen is no substitute.

For me, it’s just that bit too Brutalist. I admire the hard lines of raw concrete buildings, jutting from the ground. But in my hand, I prefer to sacrifice that uncompromising vision for a little soft comfort.

Namisu sent me the Naos for review. You can get yours here.

4 thoughts on “Does Brutalism have a place in pen design? Hands on with the Namisu Naos Ti

  1. I agree with you the Brutalist concept is interesting, but this pen still seems more like a prototype than a finished product. Your review comments about the incongruities of this pen made that clear to me. Personally I am not a fan of titanium for anything, period. For a metal body, I’d prefer brushed or sandblasted stainless steel.

    I do like faceted barrels in metal or resin and that’s the only thing I like about the pen.

    Brutalism is a style as well as a concept, and to to be really effective, there needs to be an overall unity of its elements. I think a well-thought out, Brutalist pen is certainly an intriguing possibility, and I would be interested in acquiring one.


  2. Pingback: Review: Namisu Horizon | UK fountain pens

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