Many of Birmingham’s buildings gracing our skyline, welcoming us in to the city have split views on the appeal of their aesthetics; no more than the ones that fall in to the brackets of Brutalism.
From The Rep to the New St Signal Box, one man’s unsightly lump of concrete is another man’s architectural dream. Parallel lines, raw material and expressive designs of a rebellious movement, popular between the 50’s and 70’s. Since the destruction of the central library, there has been a resurgence of love in the city for all things brutal.
Two friends with an architectural background have selected five of the moody buildings to be recreated with the help of super modern laser technology. We caught up with the guys from Space Play to talk about their first project BRUTAL BRUM:
We both studied at the Birmingham school of Architecture and worked together for several years as urban designers on projects in China. Through this we were exposed to many clients rushing to develop their towns and cities, often with no real regard for the history or heritage of the place. This has given us a perspective of looking for a balance between urban development and the preservation of a historical value. So when we looked to apply our experience back on to our hometown and to study the urbanism of Birmingham, one thing that became clear was a failure in understanding the significance of Birmingham’s brutalist architecture of the 60’s and 70’s.
Unfortunately it became popular to dislike this style so there is no celebration or preservation of it. But we see this style of Architecture as a significant part of Birmingham’s recent history that has to be given its proper value. We want to celebrate it. The stories behind most of these buildings are fascinating, with many being designed by great local architects. This period was definitely an architectural high point, but this is overlooked by most. Birmingham is currently undergoing a lot of new development, and so our study is really about trying to raise awareness of what our city could lose and in some cases what it has already lost.
Brutalism is really something that has come and gone. It can’t be replicated, but we can still pay homage to it. New design can replicate the style, but will never carry the original spirit that the movement had and so this places extra importance on valuing and preserving what we currently have. Brutalist architecture definitely has a place in the modern city, but truly this has to be through preserving and renovating the existing brutalist buildings
What’s your view on the current destruction of Madin’s public library?
The demolition of the library is almost criminal, undemocratic and completely ignorant of the procedures we have in place to determine the legacy of our built environment. It is absurd that these decisions are made by those with little or no understanding of the built environment and against the advice of experts on architectural heritage and preservation.
We strongly opposed the demolition, not only because of our personal attachment to building but also due to its significance in the history of Birmingham, its iconic status and the value it had. The qualities of this building and its significance to Birmingham are misunderstood by most people, and it’s so saddening to think that we can never again explore its amazing internal spaces.
Both concrete and wood have their place in representing brutalist design, with concrete being the obvious choice. Some of the most significant features of brutalist architecture are the massive forms and textures of raw or unfinished concrete, often formed through pouring concrete into molds made using wooden shuttering. A typical example of this is the REP interior, which features a distinct wood grain left by the concrete setting against wooden panels and boards.
The series can be viewed at Six Eight Kafé (temple row) or bought at Smithsonia Gifts (picadilly arcade) and online at Artobox.com. The historical and architectural study itself is published periodically through our Space_Play facebook account.
What can we expect next from Space Play?
We will continue to look at brutalist architecture in Birmingham, with our concrete series expanding but also through collaborative art with local artists and designers.