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Ziggurats' plight and Brunswick rebirth show that money is king

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editorial

It's hard to tell if this is a good week or a bad week for mid-20th-century architecture. For London's Brunswick Centre, finally getting a much-needed makeover, this is a good week. For Lasdun's ziggurats at the University of East Anglia (UEA), where frightening structural problems have been found, it is not.

In the end, it all comes down to money. The Brunswick Centre was never completed in the way originally intended, and so has struggled as an unloved retail space. But the apartments, originally intended as council housing, have found a warm place in the heart of certain sections of the architectural community.

Their uncompromisingly rugged nature, the ability to live relatively high and their central position make this an unsuitable place to visit for any practitioner keen to escape their professional colleagues. Cleverly, the developer has now brought in a supermarket that recognises the prime location and is prepared to make the investment to allow Brunswick to fulfil its potential.

At UEA, on the other hand, money is the enemy.

Lasdun's stepped forms are wonderfully emblematic, and he is an architect whose reputation has enjoyed a resurgence - so the university did not dismiss his somewhat dilapidated buildings out of hand. But once it learned the extent of the structural problems, it found it just could not afford the investment. Many architects and historians visit the National Theatre. They walk past, or even attend events at, the Royal College of Physicians. But since UEA is not a university with an architecture school, the profession has neither nostalgic memories of it nor a keen current interest. A university must weigh up the cost of repair against the fact that student accommodation of the 1960s is unlikely ever to supply the degree of luxury sought by today's lucrative conference trade.

So the future for the ziggurats looks bleak. One hopes the necessary funds will be found, but it is not clear where.

The lesson for any architect hoping to design for longevity must be to go where the money is - and where it is likely to be attracted in the future. This is appropriate in the week when architects and developers are networking at the altar of financial possibility in the south of France.

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