Kenneth Dunning (Letters, 26.4.01) reduces architecture to a utilitarian level in his argument that buildings cannot and should not survive beyond their first obsolescence, a moment which tends to occur at the 25 year mark. In less spendthrift times, buildings were physical resources that could seldom be sacrificed, but were instead endlessly adapted to changing functions. Even now, historic buildings, including relatively modern ones such as the Brynmawr Rubber Factory, are reservoirs of materials and craftsmanship which give variety to the built environment. This one, at least, was no Model T Ford, but a hand-built, one-off.
The central argument for saving buildings is that they carry cultural values which go beyond utilitarian considerations. The best reuse can tune new functions to old fabric, creating greater cultural depth in what was originally there. Each case has a different context, and at Brynmawr the possibility existed (and still hangs by a thread) that the cultural value of the building, a quality which requires no special knowledge to appreciate, could be harnessed for the benefit of the community.
Who pays? A good question, when £3.3 million of public money is being used to effect the demolition, in order to create a car park for a supermarket which will damage the economy of a vigorous small town without allowing the kind of local initiatives which Regeneration Through Heritage last week told townspeople could be housed within this generous sheltering structure. A better outcome, based on this irreplaceable building of international fame, could, even now, be achievable.
In any case, the idea that the building is 'worn out' is simply not true: it could be about to begin its most valuable role yet.
Alan Powers, Twentieth Century Society