Birmingham Central Library honoured in online exhibition

Matt Lindley writes about recognition for the Central Library.

Birmingham’s now-demolished Central Library has been honoured in an online exhibition entitled Demolishing Modernism.

Despite being recognised as an important architectural movement, many iconic examples of modernist architecture have been knocked down in the UK, and many more are threatened by alteration or demolition. From Birmingham Central Library to Gilbey’s Gin complex in Harlow, this beautifully illustrated tribute to Britain’s lost post-war gems has beeb created as a way of remembering this important part of our heritage.

Designed by famed architect John Madin, who was behind other historically important buildings in the city, Birmingham Central Library was the largest public library in Europe when built.

To the Prince of Wales it looked like “a place where books are incinerated, not kept”, but the library was one of three Brutalist buildings in the UK identified by the World Monuments Fund as the best of their kind.

Why is Britain’s post-war architecture being demolished?

The planning system is failing to protect some of the nation’s best post-war buildings. These buildings have often been maligned due to management and maintenance issues rather than because of faults in the actual design. 20th-century architecture is losing out to more easily understood periods such as Victorian or Georgian

This quote from Catherine Croft, Director of the Twentieth Century Society, sums up the issue well: “As a society we tend to under-value the architectural accomplishments of the preceding generation, but in time the most loathed and deeply unfashionable buildings can end up both loved and listed. It’s hard to remember just how reviled Victorian Gothic once was, now that St. Pancras, which was only saved by the efforts of John Betjeman and the Victorian Society, is a treasured masterpiece and a glamorous hotel.

“Good 20th century architecture is losing out to more easily understood building periods such as Victorian and Georgian when it comes to the increasing pressures for redevelopment. But these buildings are a valuable legacy which add to the richness of the fabric of our architectural heritage and the best examples should be safeguarded for future generations. Sadly this is just not happening. These buildings formed the background to our everyday lives and their absence will impoverish us all.”

Demolishing Modernism can be found here