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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The Public

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JANUARY. 03, 2021

Hereby hangs a tale of wasted public money, mismanagement, and an idea looking for a purpose.

It was going to be a new future for a run down urban area, because what does a run down urban area need most? That's right, 72 million pounds spent on building a pink and black box that nobody asked for and even fewer people wanted.

Having said that, back in 2010 when I took these photos it had finally opened after much controversy and it was if nothing else a great day out to take some unique photos.

This was the headline only three years later...

A controversial Midland arts centre which cost an incredible £72 million and was branded an 'obscene flop' could be shut down and turned into a sixth form college.

And so it was turned into a sixth form college. The most expensive sixth form college in Britain. In 2006 "The average cost of an entire new secondary school with 1,300 pupils and including a sixth form department, in a high-cost inner-city area is £25-30m" .

The Public was a multi-purpose venue and art gallery in West Bromwich, West Midlands, England, at the forefront of a regional regeneration programme.

The great irony about The Public was that the actual public never asked for it and seemed to be really angry that it was built anyway and then named after them.

The building itself, I actually enjoy and I am a fan of the architect Will Alsop. I do have a reservation though about most contemporary buildings of this type vis a vis, how good is the quality of construction and materials and how will it age?

The project grew out of the work by Jubilee Arts (founded 1974) whose mission was to enhance the lives of the local community through artistic programmes and endeavours. One aim of this group was to create a building which would serve as a permanent piece of art, be visually and structurally challenging and provide a place for community groups to gather to carry on the vision of Jubilee Arts.

British architect Will Alsop was selected to design the building with construction beginning in May 2003. Running over budget and with a number of organisations supporting the project going into liquidation and administration, The Public finally opened to visitors in 2008 (chiefly the ground floor), with construction of the ramp and digital artworks being completed in 2009. The building was finally completed in 2010 with the opening of its Level 2 Conference Suite and finalisation of office space on Level 4.

In November 2004 Alsop Architects left the project and architect Julian Flannery of Flannery & de la Pole took responsibility for the detailed design of the building interiors and for overseeing construction, which at that stage was around one third complete. The project went into administration before it's original planned opening date of July 2006.

In the summer of 2006 the practice developed a new brief and completion strategy for the project and several areas of the building, such as the Theatre, the Pink Tank Cafe and the Level 2 Flexible Space were fully redesigned.

The project has been commended for its "exciting and vibrant lighting scheme". Kevan Shaw lighting Design won the Lighting Design Awards in the Public Buildings Category on 12 March 2009. KSLD stated that "The lighting is designed to be an integral part of the experience of the building. Both colour and dynamics are employed to create a remarkable series of events within the multiform interior." "The Public features specific treatments that range from the visual excitement of pink neon scrawled across the ceiling to the simple fluorescent fittings which are programmed to follow the flow of people and features in the "1001 Buildings to See Before You Die List" (Wikipedia)

So if you're not dead yet, put this on your list although you better be quick, it's already ten years later and probably about to be redeveloped.

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