Listed status for office block protects legacy of 'The Man Who Built Brum'
He has become known as 'The Man Who Built Brum' on account of his key role in reconstructing Birmingham after World War II, but the late John Madin's brutalist legacy in the city has come under threat from many quarters in recent years, not least the £500 million redevelopment of the city centre that is set to see both the Central Library and Birmingham Conservatoire reduced to rubble.
Both buildings were designed by Madin, the Moseley-born architect who died at the age of 87 in January 2012. However, conservation architects across the UK will be intrigued to read of at least some protection of his Birmingham legacy being provided by the government's Grade II listing of an office block that he designed in Edgbaston.
It joins 13 other post-war office buildings across the UK to have been given Grade II listed status, including Lynx House in Cosham, originally IBM Pilot Head Office, which was built in the early 70’s, following an English Heritage project assessing commercial buildings from the 1964-84 period. It was English Heritage that had previously called for the listing of Madin's Central Library, only for the then architecture minister Margaret Hodge to decide against it in 2009, all but sealing its fate.
The Central Library is set for demolition as part of the Paradise Circus regeneration scheme that is set to drastically transform Birmingham city centre over the next 11 years. But it is not Madin's only Birmingham landmark to have been levelled, with his past designs to have faced the bulldozers including the Post & Mail tower on Colmore Circus, the BBC's former home at Pebble Mill and the AEU building by Pagoda Island on SmallbrookQueenway.
New plans have also been outlined for the demolition of the NatWest Tower at the corner of Colmore Row and Newhall Street, which has been vacant since 2003. It makes the listing of St James' House, which was built for the Allied Employers' Federation in 1957, a significant event for the cause of safeguarding the award-winning architect's work in the city.
English Heritage has praised the building's "bold, modern exterior" and its layout designed to "forge constructive relations between employers and their workforce". Designation team leader for English Heritage in the west, Deborah Williams, said that its "strong design, careful detailing and clever interior perfectly reflected the particular needs of his client."
Grade II listed status may not be able to prevent future changes to St James' House, but does at least create the requirement for special consent for alterations, helping to ensure that conservation architects will be appreciating and/or helping to protect Madin's work in Birmingham for many more years to come.
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