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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Death of a Building Part 1

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas AUGUST. 07, 2020

Addendum. I am gradually restoring lost blog posts which disappeared with the demise of This is the first of a set of 13 posts detailing the demolition of the former Birmingham Library. I will piece them back together over the next couple of months.

A few years ago I lived in Birmingham, England. When I first visited Birmingham in the late seventies it had a reputation for being a concrete jungle of the new age. It was pretty much flattened in the second World War and so had to be rebuilt pretty quickly and cheaply in only a couple of decades. That meant poured concrete.

The first building that made me go Wow! was the library designed by John Madin in an inverted ziggurat shape.

This was part of a large planned civic area that got scaled back and ultimately shelved before it was finished. It included the college of music and conservatoire which did reach completion, The main structure was originally to be faced in stone to match the other nearby civic buildings but ended up being hung concrete panels. The building stood there unloved and unmaintained for decades before being demolished in 2016.

When the plug was eventually pulled after attempts to have it listed and renovated failed, I decided to document it's demise and destruction over a period of more than a year. So at it's peak I visited up to three times a month to do a photoshoot.

I will post the story here in sets. I will try to only post the photos that stand on their own merit as interesting photos, so for those of you not into rubble and concrete they should be still visually appealing.

I will start with a couple of sets showing the building at it's end looking a little worn. The first (this one) some exterior details and the second set some interiors. I was lucky to be given permission to photograph the inside about a month before it was handed over to the demolition team. Those shots are quite dark and suitably sombre because the electricity had already been turned off.

Composite shot showing detail inset.

The trademark of the building was the sections of ribbed concrete which were amazing. The concrete was poured into formers with coloured aggregate inside that concrete. The outer layer of concrete was then pressure scoured away to reveal the aggregate underneath. I love the fact that the architect cared so much about such a detail. Unfortunately the local politicians did not care and cut back on costs to the point that the architect ultimately resigned disowning the project.

This was my souvenir, below, of months of labour and constant pestering of the security guards at the various entrances of the demolition site. They brought me any amounts of rubble but I had a hard time explaining that I particularly wanted one of the ribbed sections which only made up small parts of the exterior. I was really appreciative of their efforts to find this piece as the rubble was dangerous to get to and there were literally mountains of it.

The areas either side of the walkway were intended to be reflecting pools. They were never used.

The curved section is the library concert venue.

Preparations for demolition.

The local politicians, all ashamed of the building made various attempts over the years to either pretend it was not there or to hide it. Here you see flowers, mock Victorian advertising structure and graffiti on the outside structure actually commissioned and paid for by the idiots. What a mess.

In their infinite wisdom, the local council then thought turning the open space below the library into a fast food mall would be an improvement. The central atrium had been designed as the location for reading and study areas as this cut off all the road noise from the surrounding busy road interchange. This food mall, while bringing in more people to the area, meant the atrium of quiet for reading rooms was now a cacophony of noise, clever.

The top left was an integral walkway to give access to the city Art Gallery. It was never used.

Some of the access points were closed, leading to more desolation.

Loading bays and what was meant originally to be a bus terminus below the building. It never happened.

Please look at the flowers, not the concrete.

Death of a building, part two.

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Unknown member
Aug 14, 2022

Can't remember if I saw this one before or not...I am sure you have record.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Aug 15, 2022
Replying to

Big Brother is watching you.😉

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