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Architecture – Derby Assembly Rooms and the Battle of Brutalism | Brittany

reERBY BUILT the RB211 reactors, which made Rolls-Royce a world leader in the aerospace industry, and the advanced passenger train, which set a rail speed record of 152.3 miles per hour in 1975. Given the futuristic lean of town, it seemed appropriate to replace an 18th century recreation hall that burned down in 1963 with an elegant concrete structure designed by Hugh Casson, then Britain’s greatest architect.

The weather hasn’t been kind to the Assembly Halls, which opened in 1977. The building, the venue for concerts and graduation ceremonies, has remained empty since it was damaged by fire in 2014. The problem isn’t just that the Tory-led Derby City Council won’t pay the £ 34million ($ 44million) repair bill; is that, like many buildings of its time, the meeting rooms are not liked. They are “far too big for a Georgian market”, according to a guide, “and entirely without grace”. The council agrees and this month released plans to replace them with green spaces and a pop-up market.

Many Brutalist buildings have been demolished over the past decade, including Robin Hood Gardens, a London housing estate and the Birmingham Central Library. This is a trend that may soon accelerate. In a recent white paper, the government presented plans to facilitate the flattening of buildings by developers. On October 6, at the Conservative Party conference, Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said: “There is going to be a great opportunity to demolish some of the mistakes of the recent past because you see a lot of empty abandoned buildings in town. and city centers that were built, often poorly constructed, not respecting the character of these places, especially in the towns of the 60s and 70s.

Beautification is part of the government’s plan to improve morale in depressed places, and conservative notions of beauty do not, on the whole, include brutalism – a style associated with socialism and Europeans. Conservatives and their traditionalist bed mates believe they have the public on their side. In a poll conducted by Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank, in 2018, 85% of respondents said new homes should either fit into their more traditional surroundings or be identical to homes already there. “It is true that the 20th century has given birth to a vast array of architectural creativity,” says Ben Southwood, Housing Manager at Policy Exchange. “But much of it is unpopular.”

Friends of brutalism are not afraid of being in the minority; in fact, it can be part of the appeal. The style has become all the rage with fastidious guys in their twenties spending their lunch breaks eyeing ads for concrete-lined apartments. The society of the twentieth century (VS20), a charity campaigning for the preservation of post-1914 buildings, criticizes historic England, an official watchdog, for failing to protect modern sites. “We are constantly struggling with the preconceptions of people that the architecture of this period is not good,” says Catherine Croft, VSDirector of the 1920s Ben Derbyshire, an architect, hears VSThe argument of the 1920s. “The lesson of history,” he says, “is that successive generations are too heedless of their immediate legacy, so it is important to those in positions of power and of influence to listen to the advice of experts able to distinguish fashion from quality.

Derby civil society wants meeting rooms listed. It is a cause that has even won over skeptics. Maxwell Craven, the civil society social worker and author of The Local Guidebook, hates brutalist architecture. But he believes the council, which says it is developing plans for the site’s long-term regeneration, will inevitably build “something much more damaging to what was originally a medieval market.” Senior officials at Historic England are also supportive of the building’s cause, which means there is still hope. Yet they will not offer protection to all the buildings of the 1970s that the activists want to save. If Mr Jenrick succeeds, the British bulldozers will be busy.

Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to clarify that Ben Derbyshire was not speaking for historic England.

This article appeared in the Great Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Demolition Derby”

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