Skyscrapers listed as towering achievement

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS SCHOON

Environment Correspondent

A works' canteen in Dagenham, a Woolworth's branch in Canterbury, and the Centre Point skyscraper in London were among 21 modern buildings given listed status yesterday.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, admitted she didn't ''particularly care for'' some of the buildings she listed, including several 1960s railway stations and a signal box in Birmingham. But she liked Centre Point, which she described as exciting and innovative. Listed status gives the buildings, nearly all from the 1950s and 60s, strong protection against demolition.

Mrs Bottomley chose the buildings, all of them commercial or industrial, from a final list of 35 contenders put forward by English Heritage, the Government's conservation watchdog.

They are a tiny fraction of the thousands of factories, warehouses and office blocks built in the post-war boom years, when steady economic growth, rampant property speculation and the opportunity provided by hundreds of bomb-sites combined to transform Britain's cityscapes. The chosen few are meant to have the greatest architectural and historical interest and merit.

For the first time, members of the public were asked to comment on English Heritage's choice of buildings before Mrs Bottomley made up her mind. More than 2,000 letters were sent in.

Much disliked by the public, according to English Heritage, was Eros House in Catford, south London, designed by Owen Luder, the current president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. This large early 1960s office block was put forward for listing, but not chosen by Mrs Bottomley.

''Ultimately, it's all very subjective,'' said Mr Luder yesterday. ''If you go by majority vote, some of the best buildings in the world would never have been built. We should only preserve a few of the very finest because cities are organic and ever-changing - they should not become fossilised.''

Some of the buildings which did not make the final list are likely to be demolished. The property company that owns Marathon House, an office building in Albermarle Street, central London, has already made a planning application which envisages knocking down the 1963 building ''of considerable delicacy,'' according to English Heritage.

But the strange, 120ft tall lead shot tower in Bristol has been spared. It was built to make lead shotgun pellets - drops of molten lead fell down it, solidifying on the way - but is now redundant. Owners Shell UK had sought planning permission to demolish it, but will have to think again.

Some owners were dismayed at having their buildings listed. Heinz said it was ''deeply disappointed'' at the choice of its headquarters at Hillingdon, west of London, because of the constraints it placed on its ''commercial freedom to develop the site.''

The number of post-war listed buildings in Britain now stands at 154 - out of a total of 443,000 listed properties.

Architectural additions to the broad mix of modern classics

Seven of the 21 listed buildings are in central London: 100 Pall Mall; New Zealand House in the Haymarket; Millbank Tower; the former offices of architects Yorke, Rosenbert and Mardell in the City; 41 Albermarle Street; Sekers, Sloane Square; and Centre Point.

The others are the CIS Building in Peter Street, Manchester; Carr and Co in Shirley, Birmingham; the Head Offices of Pilkington Glassworks in St Helens; the Bird's Eye offices in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey; the Heinz Headquarters Building in Hillingdon; Woolworth's in St George's Street, Canterbury; the Rhone Poulenc canteen in Dagenham; the John Lewis warehouse in Stevenage; the Lead Shot tower in Cheese Lane, Bristol; Birmingham New Street signal box; and four railway stations - Manchester Road, Harlow Town, Coventry, and the booking hall at Barking.

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