Monday, November 12, 2007

Death of a ´60s bridge. In Brum.

In his excellent book Ghosts of Spain (Faber and Faber, 2006), Guardian correspondent Giles Tremlett argues that Spain's obsession with modernity entails "a certain disrespect, even contempt, for the old". And so, the story goes, a remarkable heritage of old buildings, churches and fortresses are being neglected or even pulled down for the benefit of office blocks and contemporary architecture. Tremlett adds that, from Madrid to Valencia, Seville to Bilbao, even the 'old new', that is to say modernist buildings, are being swept away.

His work is distinctly part of that family tree of books penned by Brits abroad as they dissect Dark Hearts, Merdes and Ghosts crowding their adoptive countries. All have one thing in common, that is stoical failure to keep hold of old sayings like "pot calling kettle black" or "look who's talking". And, just perhaps, Tremlett could do with a quick trip to Birmingham, the epitome of a city ransacked by office blocks and battery apartments. Throughout the 50s and 60s, stunning old buildings like 1861's Wycliffe Baptist Church on Bristol Street, the old Central library (1863), the Woodman pub on Easy Row and dozens more were all criminally torn down, paving the way for 'gems' like Paradise Forum and Lee Bank. The result is a Birmingham that earned its fame as the capital of concrete and distinct lack of pre-WWII heritage.

You'd have thought the lesson's been learnt. If anything, one could argue, Brum's vast collection of 60s architecture is testament to a specific architectural drive. Although debatable, it still harbours a certain charm. Yet, look at today's never-ending slew of demolition sites dotted around the city. I understand the need to improve and modernise and few would doubt Birmingham was in need of a bit of slap. But it's difficult to discern any notion of communal improvement when the old, glorious Museum of Science and Industry turned into fertile land for yet another urban splash apartment block. Or think of John Madin's Birmingham Post & Mail modernist jewel ending up worse for wear in last year's encounter with the planners' wrecking ball. Not least, there are increasing rumours that the Central Library is to go - yet again- pledging a legacy of a massive building site right in the middle of the city.

They don't restore in Birmingham, they bulldoze. Eddies no.8 mysteriously self-combusted and the strategically-located Flapper too may soon make way for more overpriced city-centre-living. The victims of Brum's knock-down frenzy are, simply, too many to mention. But it broke my heart to see (and film) my favourite pedestrian bridge- the unique 60s flyover that used to spiral across the two sides of Smallbrook Queensway-from Snobs to the Mailbox, ending up in a pile of rubble.

You may need Quicktime to view the video.

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