arts and design

Destruction of brutalist architecture in north of England prompts outcry


Some of the finest examples of brutalist architecture in the north of England are at risk of being torn down, according to a photographer who believes a crucial part of the country’s architectural history could be lost in the process.

Simon Phipps, the photographer behind the book Brutal North, a survey of brutalist architecture in the north of England, said that a mix of mismanagement and a general undervaluing of brutalism was leading to unnecessary demolition.

Phipps said changing tastes, shrinking council budgets and a derogatory view of concrete construction had left many buildings without the support needed to secure the necessary repairs.

“That maligned view has been exacerbated by the lack of maintenance that many of these buildings have received,” he said. “Park Hill [in Sheffield] was allowed to run into a terrible state before it was then decided that it had to be sold to developers … that’s what happens with a lot of these buildings.”

Some of the buildings Phipps surveyed in his book have been earmarked for redevelopment, such as the High Point Building in Bradford, which was once the headquarters of the Yorkshire Building Society.

However, several others, including a cluster on the former UMIST campus at the University of Manchester, Carlisle Civic Centre, and both the Dorman Long tower and Steel House on Teeside, are at risk.

Carlisle Civic Centre
Carlisle Civic Centre

Phipps, who has released books on London’s brutalist buildings and postwar modernist sculpture, said several buildings he photographed had already been demolished, including Owen Luder’s Derwent Tower and Trinity Square car park in Gateshead, which featured in Get Carter.

The photographer said the work of certain British modernist architects, including Luder, was at risk of being lost completely unless something was done to preserve their legacy. “[Luder] went from this very prestigious status, where his buildings were applauded and given awards, to the current period where they are being demolished and there will be nothing left soon,” Phipps said.

Campaigns including the #SOSBrutalism movement, which started in the mid-2010s, and the style’s popularity on Instagram – where there have been more than half a million #brutalism posts – are helping to change its image as a cold, depressing aesthetic favoured by authoritarian regimes in the postwar period.

Phipps said the argument for demolishing and rebuilding did not have environmental credibility because of the huge amount of carbon that went into constructing them, calling the environmental impact of demolition “incredibly damaging and wasteful”.

He said: “I think that’s a forceful argument for repurposing, refurbishing and developing new uses for these buildings.”

Phipps favours repurposing that does not hide brutalist elements. “From my point of view, it’s obviously much better if it’s repurposed in a sympathetic way,” he said. “I’m not saying everything has to be retained about them but it would be good if some of the original design elements and aesthetic were still in evidence.”

Brutalist buildings at risk

Sunderland Civic Centre

Designed by the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-influenced John Bonnington in the 1970s, the council HQ is in need of an estimated £5m of repairs and renovations. The local council has opted to move to a new £42m base instead, with the Bonnington building potentially being redeveloped as housing.

Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre

Dorman Long tower and Steel House, Teeside

This concrete duo are remnants of the area’s industrial past and have been earmarked for destruction as part of a £150m demolition project. Historians and MPs have added their voices to a campaign to save the buildings.

Steel House in Redcar
Steel House in Redcar

Barnes Wallis Building and Renold Building, Manchester

The future of these two buildings, which were designed by the Mancunian firm Cruickshank and Seward in the 1960s and sit on the former UMIST site, depends on a yet-to-be-finalised £1.5bn redevelopment plan. The University of Manchester has not guaranteed they will be retained, despite support from figures such as the musician Johnny Marr.

The Barnes Wallace Building
The Barnes Wallace Building.

Carlisle Civic Centre

A £3.6m redevelopment plan was given the go-aheadthis year after the headquarters for the city council were severely damaged by flooding in 2015. Plans include the demolition of the two-storey Octagon annex, which housed the council chambers and was first opened in 1964.





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