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CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEW

When you walk towards Birmingham's Ikon Gallery from New Street Station, your route takes you past John Madin's Central Library (1969-74), with its echoes of La Tourette.

In one of his dafter soundbites in 1989, the Prince of Wales likened it to 'a place where books are incinerated, not kept'.

Devoting an appreciative 20 pages to it in the issue of 22.05.74, the AJ said it gave 'visual relief in the sterile wasteland of super-roads and filing-cabinet office blocks'.

Andy Foster, in his recent Pevsner Architectural Guide to Birmingham, calls it 'the finest example of the Brutalist aesthetic in Birmingham, and a civic project of European importance'. Its future is currently uncertain.

Alongside other contentious Birmingham buildings from around that time, such as the Jury's Inn and Bicknell & Hamilton's New Street Station signal box, the Central Library stars in an exhibition by Perry Roberts at the Ikon until 21 January. Roberts grew up near Gateshead and seems to have hung out around Owen Luder's car park at an impressionable age; appropriately, Luder supplies the introduction to this show's catalogue. The car park's Brutalist Midland cousins are presented at the Ikon on wall-height time-lapse videos, each taken from two or three different angles, which track the passage of sun and shade across these strongly modelled, quite expressive facades (as in the corrugated concrete of the signal box, pictured above). Watching these videos at the Ikon, one sensed that people were detained by what they would normally pass by. This in-your-face architecture becomes a source of subtleties, though in an abstract realm where questions of use can be ignored ( www. ikon-gallery. co. uk).

Post-war Birmingham buildings crop up too in Prefab: a selection of photos by Richard Okon at London's Photographers' Gallery, picturing (highly personalised) prefabs and their owners from around the country. The small show is just a taster for Okon's likeable book (£9.99), but also showing at the gallery now are some of Dutch photographer Bert Teunissen's superb 'Domestic Landscapes' - detailed evocative images of rural interiors across Europe, lit naturally and redolent of inhabitation ( www. photonet. org. uk).

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