municipal buildings

municipal buildings
   Postwar municipal building in Britain has continued the traditions of the nineteenth century in terms of the provision of civic centres and local government buildings, although other building types historically associated with local government, such as schools, libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres, are now often under the control of county councils. Hampshire County Council, led by the forward thinking Freddie Emery-Wallis, is acknowledged widely as a centre for excellence for public building. Visionary County Architect Colin Stansfield-Smith was appointed in 1974, and has orchestrated an innovative programme of public architecture. One of the most celebrated examples of a civic centre is that of Newcastle upon Tyne, designed by the City Architect George Kenyon and built in two successive stages from 1960–3 and 1965–8.
   Occupying a central ten-acre site, the prominent feature of the composition is the council chamber. To the north is the reception suite, including the banquet-ing hall and Lord Mayor’s and Sheriff’s suites; to the south are committee rooms and administrative offices. Surmounting the complex is the familiar feature of the tall tower, with carillon, lantern and beacon and three golden castles from the City’s coat of arms; the tower can be seen on the approach to and across the city, and forms a symbol of civic pride. Other examples of civic centres include Gravesend (1964) by H.T.Cadbury-Brown and Partners, and Sunderland (1968) by Basil Spence, Bonnington and Collins. Both provide cleverly articulated multi-functional complexes.
   During the 1970s, many municipal buildings drew on the brutalist aesthetic, employing ubiquitous concrete; one of the most controversial examples was Birmingham Central Library (1974), designed by the John Madin Design Group. The Prince of Wales thought that it looked like ‘a place where books are incinerated, not kept’.
   Competitions for town halls have elicited some exciting responses, including the design for Northampton Town Hall, designed as a huge glass pyramid. This Platonic form was designed by Jeremy and Fenella Dixon in 1972, and positioned to relate to local ley lines. BDP’s Town Hall, Tewkesbury (1977) together with Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall’s Civic Centre, Hillingdon, Middlesex (1977), established the popularity of normally domestic neo-vernacular as a viable style for civic building, and were described by the Prince of Wales as pioneering ‘the departure from the nuclear-fallout-shelter look for public buildings’. However, one area of ‘municipal’ building which has fallen into decline in recent years is that of council housing, the prewar flagship of municipal aspiration.
   HILARY GRAINGER

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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