A Tribute to Birmingham’s Brutalist Icon by Robert Low

Earlier this year, Guardian journalist Christopher Beanland wrote a piece about the merits of Brutalist architecture, concluding “Brutalist buildings are everywhere, waiting for some attention. They deserve it.” Sadly this has come too late for Birmingham’s Central Library, which is in the process of being demolished. Built in 1974 and designed by architect John Madin, the building was at one time the largest non-national library in Europe. Like many similar concrete buildings of the era, it has divided opinion; some, including English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society, have tried in vain to save it from demolition, but to many it was considered an eyesore, a giant Tetris-like blip on Birmingham’s cityscape. In technical terms, it’s an inverted ziggurat and when it was built, the intention was for it to play a pivotal part in the cultural transformation of the city centre – there were plans for the library evolve into a vast new civic centre, complete with a music and drama centre and sports arena. This never materialised due to the ailing economy of the 1970s that led to drastic cuts in public spending. Even the façade, originally imagined in Portland Stone, was erected in pre-cast concrete to save money, while only one of seven planned water gardens was ever built.

Central Library never really stood a chance of becoming the futuristic social hub that Madin had hoped it would, but as a architectural accomplishment it was easily one of the most imposing Brutalist blocks in Britain, a symbol of the esprit du temps which valued the notion of community and egalitarianism; now sadly it is being reduced to rubble.

Before the bulldozers did their worse, photographer Robert Low created a portfolio of images capturing the library in a very different light. Speaking about the photographs, which he has kindly shared with us, the artist explains, “Shooting in full sunshine revealed the building’s true form and texture, and allowed me to focus on the subtle details of its iconic design.”

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Robert Low:
London-based photographer Rob was an assistant photographer for 8 years, working with a number of fashion and portrait photographers, as well as being Anthony Maule’s first Assistant for the last 3 years of his career. Rob now concentrates on projects around architecture and sports reportage photography, having recently shot editorials for Jocks and Nerds and The Spaces magazine and clients such as Nike and Le Coq Sportif.

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