Birmingham's Central Library is due for demolition despite being an important brutalist landmark. But does it deserve to be saved?
Ever since I moved to Birmingham, my mates have given me a hard time over the state of the city centre. In a straw poll of “friends and family”, you won’t find many fans of the concrete.
Birmingham’s city fathers agree. The current plan is to demolish the Central Library, John Madin’s brutalist landmark which sits on the optimistically-named Paradise Circus, a large roundabout which separates the Colmore Row business district from the pubs and clubs of Broad Street.
One of the most trenchant critics of the design is Prince Charles, who is reputed to have described the library as a "place where books are incinerated, not kept".
Not everyone agrees. Various organisations and lobby groups, including the Twentieth Century Society, are keen to preserve the library (and other post-war buildings in Brum). Both sides are lobbying the culture minister, Margaret Hodge, as to whether or not the library should be listed.
For my own part, I am not a fan. My criticism is not of the library in particular but of brutalist architecture in general. It may well result in buildings which make impressive architectural statements, but I find it incredibly unwelcoming. My own opinion is that buildings should be places that attract people and make them feel at home – not feelings that spring to my mind when I’m inside the library or other brutalist buildings.
But I accept that this is just my opinion and that everyone’s taste is different. Perhaps of more importance in the dispute is the relative cost of renovation over redevelopment. Supporters of the library argue that it has not been properly maintained; critics argue that the cost of renovation is out of all proportion to the benefit of keeping the building.
Let’s assume that it will cost more in the long run to keep the library than to replace it. Does it deserve to be saved?
Stuart Pemble is a partner in the construction and engineering team at law firm Mills & Reeve