Legendary Birmingham architect John Madin has slammed the city’s new £187 million library as a “disgraceful waste of taxpayers’ money”.Related content
Mr Madin, who designed the Central Library in Paradise Circus, said the council’s new version under construction in Centenary Square would provide poorer facilities for the public and was unlikely to stand the test of time.
It would come to be seen as a very poor use of public funds at a time when city council finances were under great strain, he forecast.
Describing the modernistic cage-like exterior of the new building by Dutch architects Mecanoo as “very odd”, Mr Madin said he did not believe the steel hoops portrayed the right image for a major civic building.
Mr Madin added: “It is very difficult for me to criticise another architect, but I do think it is quite extraordinary that they are spending this amount of money on a new library.
“If that library was exceptionally good and was an improvement on the existing library then there might be some excuse for paying £187 million for it. But from the drawings I have seen submitted for planning approval, that is not the case.”
Mr Madin went on: “My library was designed as a centre for learning. As far as I can see, 80 per cent of the new building doesn’t even have natural light and, quite extraordinarily, they are putting the children’s library underground.”
He pointed out that the Central Library’s large floorplates benefit from a central atrium which allows daylight to flood in.
He continued: “The exterior of the new library is absolutely disgraceful. It is not in context with a civic building. It is really a very odd exterior indeed.”
The new library, which will be integrated with the Rep theatre, is on course to open in 2013. At 31,000 sq metres it will provide 20 per cent more space than the Central Library and be capable of taking twice as many visitors.
Mr Madin’s comments came as the council planning committee signposted a thaw in its icy relationship with 85-year-old architect. Having labelled the Central Library and Madin’s NatWest Tower in Colmore Row as two of Birmingham’s ugliest buildings, councillors appear finally to have warmed to some of his other work.Related content
Committee chairman Peter Douglas Osborn is backing moves to have three of Mr Madin’s less well-known developments listed by the Government as buildings of significant architectural importance, protecting them against possible demolition.
Coun Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) said St James’s House, the Birmingham Engineering Employers Federation headquarters in Frederick Road, Edgbaston, was one of the first glass-fronted schemes of its type to be built after the Second World War and should be saved for the enjoyment of future generations.
Two other Madin office developments – Neville House in Harborne Road and Belmont House in Hagley Road – are also recommended for listing by Coun Douglas Osborn.
The decision is in contrast to the council’s often-stated views of Mr Madin’s best-known work, particularly the brutalist architecture of the Central Library which was described by former city regeneration director Clive Dutton as a “blot on the landscape”.
Prince Charles famously likened the library to an incinerator and said it was more suited to burning books.
Last year the Department for Culture, Media and Sport refused a request from Mr Madin’s supporters to list the library, leaving the way free for the council to demolish the building when the redevelopment of Paradise Circus gets under way.
An appeal against refusal to list the building is be considered.
Planning Committee members also approved demolition of the NatWest Tower after English Heritage said it lacked the “high degree of architectural quality and sophisticated detailing” necessary for listing to take place.
But the building, described as charmless by planning officials, still stands, with British Land’s proposal for a new 33-storey office block on the prime city centre site falling victim to the recession and slump in property values.
Another Madin landmark in Birmingham, the Post and Mail building in Colmore Circus, was demolished in 2005 after the planning committee decided the 1960s building was not worth saving.
Coun Douglas Osborn added: “I do rate John Madin as an architect. However, his extreme brutalist designs do not appeal to everyone.”