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


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.


Author: Jon Bounds

Jon was voted the ‘14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands’ in 2008. Subsequently he has not been placed. He’s been a football referee, venetian blind maker, cellar man, and a losing Labour council candidate: “No, no chance. A complete no-hoper” said a spoilt ballot. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama performed on Twitter when he persuaded a cast including MPs and journalists to give over their timelines to perform Twitpanto. But all that is behind him.