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EXCLUSIVE

“LIBRARY CAN BE SAVED” - ARCHITECT

22-01-2007

The architect of Birmingham Central Library has launched a passionate defence of the building - hitting out at the “disgraceful” council policies which allowed it to be surrounded by “cheap” shops. He also believes it can survive into the 21st century despite plans for demolition.

Talking exclusively to The Stirrer, 81-year old John Madin described the compromises that were forced on him even before construction started on the building in 1970.

His original specification was for the library to be clad in hard-wearing travatine marble but he was pushed aside by the then city architect Alan Maudsley who opted for cheaper, but less-hard-wearing pre-cast concrete which is the source of many of its problems today.

Worse than that, he feels his overall vision for the area was sold out by city leaders who decided to cash in on a prime location during the 70's and 80's.

“In the late 60's it was decided to make a comprehensive development between the Council House and Baskerville House, which included the library as the focus for a civic and cultural quarter.

“We built the library, the school of music and a small concert hall.

“This whole group of buildings was designed with a pedestrian walkway with squares, waterfalls, and fountains and pools. We wanted the feeling of Paris or Rome, with open squares, and landscaping.

“That was the concept, but other parts didn't get built because subsequently the city council decided to sell off land owned by the citizens of Birmingham to commercial developers. They built a hotel that was just a glass black box with red squares [The Copthorne]. That destroyed the whole concept of the library and cultural centre.

“They then sold off land just to the north of the library. If you go through the glass doors now it is a scene of absolute devastation. The pools I designed are filled with rubbish and homeless people sleep out there. It's absolutely disgraceful.

“The worst thing that happened is that instead of the linking landscaped squares I envisaged, they've filled the main square with cheap fast food shops like McDonalds so instead of becoming a civic square it became a cheap shopping centre.

“I think it's absolutely disgraceful that a city's council's orientation was not towards creating a civic or cultural centre but towards making money. Can you imagine this happening in any other great city centre in Europe - Rome, Paris, Stockholm? It's unbelievable they could that.”

First Labour, and now the ruling Tory-Lib dem administration in Birmingham had plans to replace the library - orginally there were plans to move it Eastside, now a site next to Baskerville House has been identified.

ButMadin points out that the library, for all its detractors, still has more than 5,000 visitors a day and believes that because it was built with flexibility in mind, it can be saved- and where necessary expanded - for the 21st century.

JOHN MADIN WILL APPEAR AT A PUBLIC MEETING ON FEBRUARY 26 to DISCUSS THE FUTURE OF BIRMINGHAM CENTRAL LIBRARY. MORE DETAILS TO FOLLOW.

Do you agree that the library should be saved? Is the problem the architecture - or who John Madin's vision was treated? Leave a comment on our messageboard.

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