A room with a view

Alan Clawley sees what he sees, but doesn’t necessarily like the view…..

I may belong to a minority that don’t much value a room with a view, but there are plenty of people willing to pay a lot of money for one, even of it’s a bird’s-eye view of Birmingham’s city centre from the famous Rotunda that has been elegantly re-clad by architect Glenn Howells.

When a conservation study group that I was with last week was shown around the penthouse flat on the top floor they headed straight for the balcony, mesmerised by the panorama. The skilful way in which the wedge-shaped flat had been laid out or the style of the décor hardly got a look in by the visiting experts.

Birmingham's Rotunda

I did enjoy spotting familiar architectural landmarks from a new angle – Curzon Street Station with the Park taking shape, the gleaming Library of Birmingham rising over Centenary Square echoing the doomed NatWest Tower on the highest part of the city known by the planners as the Central Ridge. Away to the west the more prominent outcrop of Rowley Regis marked the line of the main English watershed and to the north the land rose gently to the summit of Barr Beacon.

Birmingham Central Library

The reasons why some buildings don’t have views out or which are not flooded with daylight, like the Central Reference Library are sometimes misunderstood. Although solar glass can keep buildings cool, ultra-violet light still penetrates and can damage books, so high level windows and the diffused light of a central atrium were called for. Besides, a reference library was thought of as a place for introspection.

NMB Bank

Not all offices have big views out though. The huge NMB Bank building in Holland was designed to rely on natural lighting and ventilation and keep window openings and thus views out to a minimum.

When architects designed the houses for the co-op in which I live they offered us small, high up windows. The committee had to be persuaded that big picture windows would lose too much heat. Thirty years later, when energy costs are so high, we are grateful for the architect’s foresight.

Much has been made of the views of the city skyline that will be seen through the filigree screen from the upper floors of the new library in Centenary Square, but who will come a long way just for the views of the vacant former Municipal Bank, the old Registry office and the ATV site across the Square still waiting for the city’s tallest skyscraper, or the distant view of the Cube that has already been nominated Carbuncle of the Year by Building Design magazine?

The Cube - Birmingham

has queried the idea of the Central Library being converted into offices because there would be no views out, which is apparently what most office workers demand. But if the only way of saving the building from the bulldozer was to convert it to offices, it would be a simple matter to replace the concrete cladding panels entirely with glazing once they no longer had to meet the functional requirements of a library. I think the result would be a fantastic Grade A office, and as an added bonus, no-one would be able to call it a ‘concrete monstrosity’ any more. Could Glenn Howells do any better in his designs for the proposed office blocks in Paradise Circus?