Battle to save Britain's Brutalist buildings from the bulldozer - Architecture - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Battle to save Britain's Brutalist buildings from the bulldozer

Snub by Culture minister raises fears that another Modernist construction is doomed

They are ugly, they are in your face, and the public often hate them. But the Culture minister Margaret Hodge's refusal to give a Grade II heritage listing to the Brutalist-style Birmingham Central Library – a huge inverted concrete ziggurat built in 1974 – has ignited a dogfight which highlights the bleak outlook for this genre of historic architecture.

The Friends of Birmingham Central Library, supported by the Twentieth Century Society, an action group which fights to save important modernist buildings, have forced the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to re-examine the Culture minister's refusal to give the library a Grade II listing. The prospects are gloomy: the department has just confirmed its refusal to list Preston bus station, another 1970s building with an extraordinary structure.

In London, recently doomed buildings include the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate, the now demolished Milton Court portion of the Barbican, and Hereford Square apartments in Kensington. And one architect, Owen Luder, has had three mega-Brutes consigned to oblivion: the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead which featured in the Get Carter film, the savagely outlandish Derwent Tower – aka the Dunston Rocket – in the same town and the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth, whose rotting concrete carcass still stands, unwanted by developers seven years after its listing was refused.

In Birmingham, the razing of the Central Library and other buildings on the Paradise Circus site will trigger a £600m scheme by developers.

English Heritage recommended the library be listed Grade II. But the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment disagreed, and its apparently influential role in Ms Hodge's decision has alarmed Twentieth Century Society director, Catherine Croft. "Cabe does not have any historic building expertise," she said.

She said that the Culture minister had given too much weight to public and commercial opinions.

But even English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society do not always agree about which Brutalist buildings should be listed, which means developers are finding it easier to get what they want. In some cases, developers present more detailed and persuasive appraisals of the buildings they want to demolish than English Heritage does in defending them. Jon Wright from The Twentieth Century Society claimed this had been the case when developers successfully argued for the de-listing of the Hereford Square apartments.

Meanwhile, there is another Brutalism at work. "Even if the Central Library is listed," said Birmingham City Council spokesman Simon Houltby, "we'll still knock it down. Listing doesn't look at suitability for use. It's just more bureaucratic process to go through." Grade II listings can be ignored on the grounds of the economic or social benefit of redevelopment.

Work has just started on Birmingham's new £193m super-library, a stone's throw from the incredible hulk – Europe's biggest public library – which was designed by John Madin.

Architecture: Beastly buildings

*With its upside-down ziggurat structure, Birmingham Central Library, serves 5,000 visitors a day. There has been a library in Chamberlain Square since 1865; the present structure was opened in 1974. Designed by John Madin, the proposals had it situated amid landscaped gardens but the plans fell through.

*Work started on Preston bus station in the city's centre in 1968, and it opened a year later. Designed by Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson, the station and its unique ribbed structure have been under threat of demolition for more than a decade.

*An example of the "streets in the sky" concept – social housing with wide aerial walkways in long concrete blocks – Robin Hood Gardens, is a 213-flat council-house complex in Poplar, east London. Alison and Peter Smithson designed it in the late 1960s, and work was finished in 1972. The two main structures are made of dour, pre-cast concrete. The complex has been earmarked for demolition as part of a larger regeneration project called Blackwall Reach.

*Named for the poet John Milton, and part of the Barbican in central London, Milton Court was demolished in 2008 to make way for flats and space for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Designed by famous modernists Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, it was finished in 1965 and housed a fire station, mortuary and a coroner's court.

*Known as the "Dunston Rocket" because of its shape, Derwent Tower in Dunston, Gateshead, was completed in 1971, designed by Rodney Gordon. The 29-storey building was marked for demolition at the end of last year after years of neglect.

*The site for several key scenes in the 1971 movie Get Carter, the Trinity Square shopping centre's car park in Gateshead, another Rodney Gordon design, was a crumbling cause célèbre for the anti-Brutalist movement. It was opened in 1969 but weathered badly, before finally coming down last year.

*This Portsmouth shopping and apartment complex was named the Tricorn Centre because, from the air, it looked like the 18th-century hat. Opened in 1966 for £2m in an attempt to revitalise the city, the hoped-for premium stores never moved in. Voted the UK's most hated building in 2001 by Radio 4 listeners, it was taken down in 2004.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week