The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

News from Birmingham

The new Bullring Shopping Centre has now been open for a few weeks and the Selfridges building by Future Systems has received wide publicity in the national press: it has also brought visitors to Birmingham , which, of course, was the intention. Whether they will be tempted to shop or to return remains to be seen. If you have been to see this building, we would be interested to hear your views – we always welcome such contributions from members.

There has been some concern about proposed alternations to one of the factory buildings in Bournville. The building is known as the Dining Block and dates from the 1920s, a modest design in the neo-classicism of the period. However, in its intent it reflects the caring attitude that the Cadburys had towards their workers: the spacious dining room with its tall French windows opens onto a large terrace which overlooks the recreation ground and sports pavilion. A wide flight of steps leads down to gardens edging the recreation ground: the whole conjuring up a picture of workers, having eaten a good meal, stepping out onto the terrace to enjoy watching a game of cricket! The building also contains a concert hall cum theatre.

The Cadbury family no longer have an active part in the running of the Cadbury Schweppes company and the new management are determined to convert this building into their “Prestige Head Office”, a use for which it was never designed. This involves converting the dining room into offices, removing the terrace and the steps leading to the recreation ground and to provide instead a café in the basement. Worse still, the simple façade facing Bournville Lane is to be partially demolished, the centre of the elevation to be replaced by a post-modern design leading to a double-height reception area, the whole completely out of character with the rest of the building. Despite a great deal of protest by local councillors, the Twentieth Century Society and members of the Conservation Advisory Committee, the plans were passed, albeit with 24 conditions! It is to be hoped that these will act as a deterrent, so that this important contribution to Bournville’s history will not be destroyed.

To end on a more cheerful note: you may recall that our attempt to list the Birmingham Post and Mail building, designed by the John Madin Design Partnership did not succeed and the building was destined to be demolished last year. However, it is still standing and the Post and Mail have converted the printing block into their city offices. The remainder of the building, the tower on a podium, has been sold and there are plans by the new owners to convert it into offices. So, after all, we are not going to lose this important building by a leading firm of Birmingham architects. There is a moral here: we may not have succeeded in getting the building listed, but by drawing attention to its quality we caused the owners to have second thoughts about their plan, and thus prevented its demolition.

Eva Ling