In the Pevsner guide to Birmingham Andy Foster described the proposed destruction of the Madin Library as a tragic mistake, reminding the reader that the architect’s original design was curtailed:

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“It was the first library in Western Europe to be designed as a complete cultural centre Including exhibition areas, lecture hall, children’s and music departments under one roof. The scheme covered all of Paradise Circus and was to have included a drama centre and athletic institute, and tough landscaping, with extensive water feature. What was built is the Reference and Lending Library complex, a linking wing to the Council House Extension and to the Conservatoire. They combine the grand romantic gestures of the Brutalist period with subtle use of Internal space, and remarkable tact in relating to their C19 neighbours”.

In the Birmingham Press recently Alan Clawley recalls, “The architect, John Madin, was known to have wanted Portland Stone or Travertine for the cladding, but the City Architect, representing the client, the City Council, insisted on cheaper pre-cast concrete. Twenty years later the failure of many of the panels shows that quality was indeed sacrificed to cost. Madin could have resigned over the issue, but faced with an authoritative City Architect who had been instructed to cut costs, his acquiescence is understandable”.

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Clawley reflects on the news that architect Alejandro Zaero-Polo had ‘walked away’ from the New Street Gateway project, emphasising that money is usually the cause of the rift; architects tend to believe that good, original design costs more than generic, run-of the mill stuff. When costs are cut, they assume, quality will inevitably suffer:

He suspects this is the case with New Street Gateway’s ‘Grand Central’, the retail element of the station scheme: “The architect’s original design involved cutting a huge hole in the roof of the old Pallasades Shopping Centre and constructing a glazed skylight to keep the weather out. We have seen the computer-generated images – strong swooping white ribs in the style of Art Nouveau holding the curvaceous panels of glazing. It’s obviously of a piece with the architect’s design for the stainless steel cladding on the outside and the wavy suspended ceiling slats of the new Ticket Hall”. The client, Network Rail, wanted the skylight to be constructed in tensioned fabric, cheaper and easier to construct, but not as durable as the rigid structure proposed by the architects.

After further analysis he concludes wryly: “Meanwhile, the trains come and go much as before”.

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