[excerpt May 2013]
Birmingham is building a new library and wants to bulldoze its current one. That could happen as soon as this autumn. The current 1974 Central Library is by John Madin – who died last year. His buildings were supposed to leave an indelible, futuristic mark on his beloved hometown. But they’re being inexorably torn down by city fathers whose fathers’ generation clamoured for the concrete that’s fallen from fashion.
Buildings bear witness to the tiny dramas that make us human. If we turn concrete to dust, where do those memories go? Madin’s buildings were the backdrops for a million Brummies’ lives – though as time slipped by, they forgot to notice. The Post & Mail House was built for the Birmingham Post by f Madin in 1966, and its demolition started in 2002. Its smoked-glass tower was a neat appropriation of Lever House in Manhattan and it was the best office block Birmingham ever had. There was a prosaic annex next door where Metro, the newspaper I worked for, was housed. Every morning and lunchtime for three years I watched the tower being very slowly taken apart, without much dignity in death. In Leeds, the Yorkshire Post quit their Brutalist Madin offices for something more prosaic last year.
Madin’s buildings are vanishing. His BBC Pebble Mill Studios were demolished in 2005. His condemned NatWest Tower has shutters over the windows of the opulent banking hall where I drew my pitiful first salary. “It’d be good to see Birmingham appreciating the richness of the many centuries of great buildings it has,” maintains Catherine Croft of the Twentieth Century Society. “And especially not to have it trying to completely erase the 1960s, when it was an exciting place to be.” Croft and her friend Elain Harwood of English Heritage repeatedly tried to get the Central Library and Post & Mail House protected. But unlike many of his contemporaries, Madin never had a building listed.