Treasured buildings struggle for survival while the ugly flourish
Warehouses as luxury homes; foundries as visitor attractions - learning to cherish buildings which were once perceived as ugly is a national obsession. How ironic that we are so easily able to appreciate buildings which were purposefully 'undesigned' yet seemingly indifferent about buildings which are universally accepted as outstanding examples of their type. There are countless instances of institutionalised inconsistency as to what we value and what we don't.
Why is it that the local authority in Blaenau Gwent appears to be happy to demolish the Brynmawr Rubber Factory - arguably Wales' best twentieth century building - while the nearby Tofaen Council has just had Blaenafon ironworks declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
The fact that a building is subject to the winds of fortune is not in itself a bad thing. It is wonderful to see Rotherham's unloved, and seemingly unlovable, Templeborough Works rising like a phoenix from the ashes as the much-lauded Magna Centre. Seemingly a prime target for demolition, the fact that the building survives at all is a reminder that there are as many winners as losers in our rather arbitrary attitude to architecture. Templeborough Works' lowly status made it possible for the Magna team to realise its crazy visionary dreams. Few of Brynmawr's supporters would have been happy to see it transformed into a fullyfledged visitor attraction, or subject to the more fundamental alterations which would have been necessary for any other change of use. Brynmawr may be of sufficient worth to pull in the crowds in its own right. But how are they to be persuaded to part with more than a nominal entrance fee? And who is going to take responsibility for flocks of visitors with little prospect of financial gain?
It will be a tragedy if Brynmawr is destroyed. But the best hope for its survival is for all the parties involved to pledge that they will be sympathetic to proposals for a new use, and take a relaxed attitude to any necessary changes. It is too often the case that buildings which are blessed with the most zealous custodians eventually become the least viable to maintain.