Letter: Philistinism in Britain's 'second city'

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The Independent Online
Sir: It was only a matter of time before the municipal panjandrums of Britain's most philistine city decided to deface their town hall, the only building of outstanding architectural merit which remains in that unlovely conurbation ('Arrivederci to Brum's bit of Italy', 19 January).

Anthony Sargent, Birmingham council's head of arts and entertainments, is quoted as saying that 'Italians would have no qualms about blending stone and glass on such a building'. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with attempts to glass in historic arcades in Mediterranean countries knows that the inevitable upshot is an aesthetic catastrophe.

The Spaniards, in order to make a quick buck from tourism, glassed in the arcades in a number of the historic monuments they turned into hotels ('paradores'). The result is a sanitised travesty of many ancient cloisters and refectories which, at a stroke, lost that numinous sense of place and magic that had transported them unscathed through the centuries.

As a former temporary resident, albeit a reluctant one, of what is sometimes inexplicably referred to as 'Britain's second city', I cannot say that I am surprised at what is happening there. If the civic worthies of Birmingham were in charge of the Parthenon, it would not be long before they found a way of using breeze blocks and pre-cast concrete to enhance its usefulness.

Those responsible for the wholesale concretisation of vast swathes of Birmingham in the post-war period clearly feel that there is unfinished work to be done as long as one building of beauty is left standing. Outright destruction by a German bomb might have been preferable to the slow dismemberment that is now in prospect.

Yours faithfully,



19 January

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