It was only recently, in the great scheme of architecture, that critics and historians brought up with authentic Victorian values despised pretty much any building dating from after the Regency. For decades the Midland Grand Hotel fronting St Pancras station was anathema, the vilest, most tawdry building that has ever existed.
Today, we are learning to look a little more considerately at the dramatic concrete buildings of the 1960s labelled, a little alarmingly, brutalist. Even then, it does come as rather a surprise to find that buildings like the threatened Preston bus stationand Birmingham central library as well as the culturally admired yet aesthetically reviled South Bank Centre are now the concerns of the World Monuments Fund [WMF].
The WMF is also asking us to fret about Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron’s very own romantic ruin; and Quarr Abbey, the very particular Benedictine settlement designed by Dom Paul Bellot on the Isle of Wight; these are the kind of buildings you would expect historians and conservationists to alert us to when they are in need of urgent repair. But Preston bus station? Birmingham central library? Well, yes.
These are fine civic buildings and with a little imagination and care they could continue to serve and even delight future generations. I once described Preston bus station as baroque – modern baroque – and I stand by that. It is a striking and practical building that with a modicum of intelligence and skill could be transformed into one the Lancashire city, hell-bent on its destruction in the hope of more shopping malls, could yet be proud of.
It takes time though – the test of time – and the danger is that while buildings go through unfashionable phases they are in danger of falling into disrepair, and being demolished. The WMF is right to make us look at them anew before the wrecker’s ball swings their hapless way. Jonathan Glancey
It’s vital that the best Brutalist buildings are saved from demolition – they are an important part of our architectural history, and with proper restoration and maintenance would be assets to our cities.
As the article says, “for decades the Midland Grand Hotel fronting St Pancras station was anathema, the vilest, most tawdry building that has ever existed.”. It’s now one of the most impressive buildings in London.
Brutalism reflected courage, confidence, vision and modernity. That can only be viewed with envy when compared to todays architectural missteps.