I’ve got a bit of a thing for the work of John Madin. He’s the architect responsible for several of Birmingham’s more well known buildings (Central Library and the Natwest Tower on Colmore Row to name but 2) and the practice’s portfolio is full of wonderful examples of the brutalist style of 1960s architecture.
Birmingham isn’t well known for its architecture, and some might argue that it’s always suffered from an identity crisis – constantly reinventing itself and obsessing over becoming the next [insert name of high profile city]. In order to address this, Birmingham ought to celebrate itself for what it is: a culturally diverse city with a fascinating industrial past and a collection of buildings which cover a broad spectrum of architectural styles.
But Birmingham City Council are determined to demolish the city’s finest example of brutalist architecture. In 2003 and 2008, English Heritage recommended that Madin’s Central Library should be statutorily listed. In 2011, the World Monument Fund called for its protection. Nevertheless, the Government’s Heritage Minister agreed to grant the library immunity from listing.
I understand the city’s concerns about this part of town, and that they feel the library effectively blocks pedestrian routes through to Centenary Square. I know the council have concerns about the state of the building because hasn’t been well maintained. I understand that this is no longer a building fit to operate as a library – I’ve talked to the librarians who work there. I understand that there is a commercial value in the land on which the library stands and they feel a new development would add value to the city.
I get that.
But I also think that they haven’t considered the impact on the feel of the city when much of the 1960s architecture is removed to make way for new development. Yes, this is largely an emotional factor and I’m no urban designer, but I know it’s REALLY IMPORTANT to give a city a vibrancy through a variety of architectural styles.
Most importantly I’m very uncomfortable knowing what the environmental impact of removing the library and surrounding buildings all together and replacing them will be. Have the council considered carbon emissions? I can’t find anything online to suggest that they have, and that has me very worried.
I know my former colleagues at Glenn Howells Architects have worked hard on the new plans for redevelopment of this part of the city…
But it’s not the only option. Redeveloping the area and retaining the library would still create jobs and have an economic value for the city.
This is why I’m tweeting and blogging and talking to people about this petition set up by Alan Clawley from Friends of Central Library calling for the council to reconsider their decision.
I want my council to be brave and to be proud of its brutalist architecture. I desperately want my council to stand up for itself and say:
“Hey everyone! Look at this huge great big brutalist building we have – pretty cool huh?!”
As you can tell I feel pretty strongly about this so if you agree with any of what I’ve said, I urge you to sign it too. There is more information over on the petition page: