Brutal, beautiful, battered: we’re losing the war for our soul

12360195_10153352134053553_1599529015647581083_n

The demolition of Madin’s Library is victory for cliché and gormless ‘opinion’. A triumph of pluralistic ignorance, with the blood on the hands of an unimaginative fourth estate who sleepwalked with what passes for a second round these parts into an act of pointless vandalism.

Karl Marx developed a theory of what’s now called creative destruction: he postulated that capitalism needs continual cycles of devaluation or destruction in order to clear the ground for the creation of new wealth. As Stereolab explain, this is often by recession or war — but in our local context neglect and bogus ‘civic renewal’ serve the purpose. Capitalism has won over beauty, and the cheers of the braying classes as the thin exterior is punctured celebrate the powerlessness of all under money’s rule.

It is a war, a war for history and the public realm. The casualty of this war is beauty. The collateral damage the psyche and soul of the city.

If it were true that the building cut off part of the city, then we’d be getting a tree-lined boulevard to replace it. We’re not, we’re getting a few more offices and some bland retail units, a layout that will look remarkable similar to the pedestrian. We will get a public space refactored for private needs. Yes, another one.

No-one wanted to go through Centenary Square towards the ICC as it was a wind-blown and block-paved hall of bland. Dull with a chance of Tories. Paradise Forum, on the other hand always looked full enough, and did it stop people going to see their precious new library? The queues outside that library on a Sunday morning suggest it didn’t.

Don’t like the look of a building? Don’t look at it. You seem to be the sort of people who like glass towers and beige coffee shops, so turn around: there are hundreds of them. I personally dislike the way the Bull Ring cuts the city in half and spews consumerism across the landscape, perniciously robbing us of rights in our public space, but I understand that demolition would be costly and pointless as more of the same would be put in its place.

People who don’t mind what they eat as long as there’s lots of it, or those who’d rather eat something just after they’ve photographed it with the hashtag ‘wow’, these are the sort of people who drive history out of existence. People who say what they like, and like what they say. People who speak their mind, however empty it is, and tell you they’re ‘like marmite’ — they are winning the battle for our very culture.

Architectural merit is not a popularity contest, and a city that is striving to be seen as special cannot afford to dismiss its heritage. This building was special, and it is the history of modern Birmingham. If we fought for that history, we didn’t fight hard enough.

The world is a less Brutalist, more brutal, and less beautiful place.

Who’s responsible? You are.

 

By Jon Bounds

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.

Posted in Architecture, Brutalism, identity Tagged with:
  • Brenda B

    Magnificent piece. Grief and that heavy sense of loss, better expressed.

  • Mikey

    Genuine question: is this satire?

  • Gary longden

    To my eyes the library was an ugly monstrosity, Madin’s
    folly. In itself that was no reason for demolishing it. It was well placed, and
    well used. The suggestion that it has anything to do with our city’s soul is
    risible, unless that soul has gone to hell.

    The building was expensive to run, with significant and
    increasing maintenance repairs due. Pouring money into it would have been
    foolish, as the building’s life was expiring. The building was not special, it
    was Madin’s worst effort by a very long way.

  • Brian Homer

    I love good modern architecture. Its a building that split opinions but its tedious to call people who are on the other side gormless etc. There’s plenty of respected opinion that is negative about Madin’s library. One could equally argue that the development of the city in the 70s was gormless, ignorant and unimaginative as it was entirely based on serving the car lobby to the detriment of pedestrians. The library itself was part of this and built over one part of the Inner Ring Road that choked off development of the city for many years and made access awful. In fact one could argue also that that building was a direct result of road planning rather than proper urban planning as the new road meant demolition of the lovely previous library. And to say it represents the City’s soul has to be satire doesn’t it as the comment below asks? Surely the City is Not as Shit as That?

  • Malcolm Coghill

    Before the concrete colossus there was the Central Library, a glory in Lombardic Renaissance style, then the vandals decided it was old and worn out so built the concrete colossus. It worked as a functioning library ! But what is this ! The Labour party have the Private Finance Initiative ! Gordon Brown can wave his magic wand and rain down largesse onto the land ! Birmingham may now replace her concrete library with a sparkly tinsel edifice ! Glory be to the Gods of architecture ! And so it came to pass Birmingham was gifted a building it could not afford !

    • This was not PFI, which might have been cheaper. The *conservative* council took on debt, paid contractors.