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Hodge refuses to list Birmingham Central Library

  • 24 Comments

Architecture Minister Margaret Hodge has gone against English Heritage (EH) advice and rejected a bid to list Birmingham’s 1970s central library

The decision not to give heritage protection status to John Madin’s brutalist library (1974) opens the way for a large-scale, mixed-used development of the site led by Argent and the demolition of the famous concrete ‘inverted ziggurat’.

Both EH and the Twentieth Century Society have voiced their disappointment about Hodge’s rejection.

A spokesman for EH said: ‘[The building] is the largest civic (non-national) library in Europe [and] its boldly confident exterior defines an era of Birmingham’s recent history.’

‘In offering the Government our expert advice, we examined all aspects of its architectural interest including: whether it fulfilled its brief; whether it was a particularly good example of a public library; how well it survives; how it compares to other listed buildings of a similar type; and how influential the building has been. In our view, these tests were met.’

A Twentieth Century Society added: ‘Minister Margaret Hodge has made no secret of her personal dislike for post-war buildings and has here failed to understand the basic premise of heritage protection in England. [We are] tremendously disappointed by the Minister’s decision not to follow the advice of her advisers and list Birmingham Central Library. EH advice on listing is not often overturned and this is a key case in that regard.’

A spokesman for the Minister said: ‘This decision was finely balanced but the Minister concluded the building did not have sufficient historical or architectural importance to merit listing.’

It is understood CABE also felt the library was not worthy of listing and wrote to Hodge to that effect.

Others have also welcomed the decision. Architect Tom Hewitt, a design director at 3DReid’s Birmingham office, said: ‘I am proud to be from Birmingham and I can see some architectural merits of the existing library, especially in terms of its context relative to the period and the bravery of the design in that era… but I don’t like it and I never have.

‘I remember the emptiness of the left over space that sat below it, with parallels to Spaghetti junction – an uncomfortable block on a desolate concrete forest of supporting structure. Internally too the building felt bunker like.’

Postscript

English Heritage’s full comments

The Birmingham Library, designed by John Madin and opened in 1974, is the largest civic (non-national) library in Europe. Its boldly confident exterior defines an era of Birmingham’s recent history, and its careful internal planning makes it a successful example of an integrated modern facility.

English Heritage believes that the Library is worthy of Grade ll listed protection. Listing identifies whether a building is nationally important and not whether it must be kept. It is not a preservation order, simply a mark of special interest. Listed buildings can still be demolished once the case has been made and all other options have been explored.  We have been working with the City Council throughout, and maintain an open dialogue with them.

In offering the Government our expert advice, we examined all aspects of its architectural interest including: whether it fulfilled its brief; whether it was a particularly good example of a public library; how well it survives; how it compares to other listed buildings of a similar type; and how influential the building has been.  In our view, these tests were met.

We are naturally disappointed that [Margaret Hodge on behalf of] Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw came to a different conclusion and we believe many local people will be too.

Twentieth Century Society’s full comments

The Twentieth Century Society is tremendously disappointed by the Minister’s decision not to follow the advice of her advisers and list Birmingham Central Library. EH advice on listing is not often overturned and this is a key case in that regard. Minister Margaret Hodge has made no secret of her personal dislike for post-war buildings and has here failed to understand the basic premise of heritage protection in England.

Listing Birmingham’s impressive brutalist library would not prevent renovation work, or even a well-designed radical makeover. Libraries need to be flexible as the services  they provide will continue to evolve. We believe not only that the Central Library is historically and architecturally significant, but that it is capable of being adapted for the needs of 21st century Birmingham. What listing would do is make sure that proposals took into account the historic interest of these structures rather than seeking to change or even demolish them.

One of the key strengths of our heritage system is that listing is decided purely on the basis of architectural or historic interest. This then allows a detailed analysis of economic viability and wider social issues to follow. This  works very well and any problems that occur generally reflect lack of skills, experience and confidence of local authority planning departments and committees. The process does not require Margaret Hodge to fix it. BCL, designed by one of Birmingham’s most accomplished architectural sons, John Madin, could have another life. The Twentieth Century Society will continue working alongside the local groups who have done so much to push the debate forward

 

 

  • 24 Comments

Readers' comments (24)

  • Can no-one rid us of this troublesome, meddlesome Minister? She's a disaster, shame she was brought back, hopefully not for long?

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  • A person who has previously expressed a personal dislike of post-war architecture has no business being the Architecture Minister. Yet again she has proved that she has the aesthetic perception of a mollusc.

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  • The only thing that needs demolishing is Margaret Hodge's career

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  • "...aesthetic perception of a mollusc" Quite what is Anonymous 12:13 suggesting?

    I have long considered molluscs to have highly developed aesthetic sensibilities.

    Many molluscs build shell structures that are are of great beauty and refinement that provide great living spaces for themselves and subsequent occupiers - ask any hermit crab and many of our boldest human architects.

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  • Hodge is clearly an arrogant idiot with no regard for the balanced professional opinions offered. She is not fit to hold the position she does. This just makes a mockery of the system.

    This is a fabulously civic and bold piece of architecture, by a local practice and the best building in the city. But it seems Birmingham now has to be coated in a layer of hideous, fatuous, shallow, facile, un-intellectually stimulating 'contemporary' gestures to encourage us to spend ourselves happy.

    Can we please also question the sustainable argument for removing a perfectly functional, servicable building with huge embodied energy well before the end of its life cycle.

    Complete insanity. I, for one, will be there chained to it if the bulldozers ever get near it.

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  • I stand corrected Mr.Marsden. My apologies to molluscs everwhere.

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  • As a historian of architecture and a foreigner living in England I am puzzled by the lack of recognition brutalist architecture receives in this country. Earlier this month your PM praised British architects for the impact they make throughout the world. It remains to be seen whether this is true or not in the long run. As for brutalist architecture this impact is undeniable and you should be proud of it.

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  • PenrynPat's comment is completely right. We should be proud of this building. It's not some system-built point block found in every town in the land. If it goes, there'll be some misty-eyed 'birmingham as it was' type book, with dubious production standards, and people will ask 'Why?...why were these people so short sited'? Excluding the Boston thing by Kallman, McKinnell and Knowles (probably in madin's precedent scrapbook) what else looks like this building??

    Jesus people...get a grip. Stop messing about, list it, keep it. The simple, cheap, honourable thing to do.

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  • Margaret Hodge is to be congratulated - this is a very sound decision - the central library is a monster - a terrible mistake which has blighted the city's civic qaurter for over 30 years.

    Anyone who has had to work in it and endure its miserable, dark, depressing reading rooms and battle against the wind-tunnel effect that surrounds it, or has witnessed its crushing impact upon the adjoining Victorian Town Hall and Council House, will welcome this decision.

    Let us all hope a new building that respects its neighbours and creates an attractive new landmark rises in its place!

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  • Has Prince Charles just entered the debate?

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