The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Buildings at risk

Derby Assembly Rooms, Derby

Image: Brutalist Construction

The Brutalist Derby Assembly Rooms, which contain two concert halls, have been closed for seven years following a minor fire in an adjacent multi storey car park. Derby City Council is now planning to demolish the building, which it says would be too costly to refurbish despite being in good condition and untouched by the fire, and develop a new performance venue in Becketwell. C20 and the local campaign group headed by the architect Robert Evans have voiced strong objections while Historic England has expressed ‘serious concerns’ on heritage grounds. The Assembly Rooms were built in 1971-6 to designs by Casson, Conder & Partners, in association with the Borough Architect’s Department. Sir Hugh Casson was a founding partner of the practice, and a major figure in post-war British architecture. He is perhaps best known for his role as the Director of Architecture for the Festival of Britain. Casson, Conder & Partners specialised in the design of adaptable auditorium spaces and venues. The practice is widely celebrated for their university buildings, many of which are now listed.

The Derby Assembly Rooms are on a larger scale than these earlier academic projects, but they share a similar ethos and aesthetic language. They are constructed on an exposed concrete frame, with large bay windows on the ground floor and an enclosed, cantilevered walkway above ground-level. These walkways form a striking feature as they are clearly expressed through the external structure. The staggered levels and bold sculptural form draw people in from the market place. The Assembly Rooms were intended as the centre of an unrealised grand civic scheme in Derby city centre. This civic character is legible through its form and the integration of a range spaces for a variety of functions. The demolition would be carried out before long term plans for the future of the site have been agreed. The building has a current Certificate of Immunity from listing which expires shortly, and C20 is calling for listing, and for the demolition application to be called in for public inquiry.

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