Last attempt to rescue post-war modernist gem of Derby from bulldozers | Architecture
When Derby launched a competition for its marketplace redevelopment in 1970, the winning design was said to be ‘architecturally effective in any function’ and praised for its ‘design excellence’.
Created by famous architectural duo Hugh Casson and Neville Conder, the Derby Assembly Rooms have been the center of city life for decades, welcoming artists such as Van Morrison, Elton John, The Clash and Take That from the 1970s to the 90s. like countless graduation ceremonies, beer festivals and pantomimes over the years.
Now the building faces the prospect of demolition, having been vacant for six years since a fire in 2014. Last month, the Derby City Council planning committee voted in favor of its demolition once it was completed. a redevelopment plan for the site is approved, and its fate now lies with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, who will determine whether the decision should be subject to scrutiny.
The move has sparked fierce opposition from residents and conservation groups, including Historic England and the Twentieth Century Society, who believe his loss will be a blow to Derby and its history – a loss that will not be fully realized until later. .
A similar threat is facing dozens of architecturally significant buildings across the country. The Twentieth Century Society is taking action against the destruction or redesign of seven historic department store buildings, and is concerned about the threat of 23 more due to the collapse or restructuring of retail chains.
Proposals to demolish eight buildings in the Fleet Street and Whitefriars conservation areas in London to create courts, a police headquarters and offices are also opposed by heritage activists, who say it would desecrate a view famous of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Speaking of the Derby Assembly Halls, Otto Saumarez Smith, architectural historian and assistant professor at the University of Warwick, said: ‘It really should have been listed – it’s the post-war building. the most important in the county. It is a relative rarity to have something of this caliber in a provincial town.
“It’s from its time and I’m well aware that not everyone likes it, but it’s just a terrible lack of imagination to demolish something that’s there, solid and well-built, and that does a lot. working to connect the slightly disparate city center. “
Chris Stone, a member of the Derby Civic Society, has campaigned to save the building for years. “It’s underrated,” he says. “I think people are looking at it and they don’t really know what they are looking at, that’s a problem with modern architecture. We need to carefully consider the renovation and not just cancel it. “
The fate of the meeting rooms has been at stake since the 2014 fire in the technical room of an adjacent car park, which left the main building intact but damaged its ventilation system.
In January 2018, the then Labor-led council announced plans for a new £ 44million music and performance hall at the site, following a public consultation, but when the Tories had took control of the board later that year, they committed to the renovation. Planning permission was granted in 2019 and work began to remove asbestos, but when costs climbed to over £ 30million the council shut down the project.
Rachel North, deputy chief executive of Derby City Council, said the question of whether to keep the building was complex. “The building is important, but it’s not the only problem,” she said. “The problem is the city and how we make it a more cohesive, efficient, dynamic and creative place for people. The cost of renovating it is so high that maybe tearing it down and putting something different on this site would give us additional benefits. “
The long, flat building with its blocky appearance and geometric design is a desperate presence on the edge of Market Place today, and residents were divided over whether to stay or go, with some describing it as an eyesore and others sad to see his disappearance. .
“I just don’t know why they don’t maintain the things they have and put them back,” said Mary Oxspring, who owns the quality florists nearby with her sister, Penny, who added, “That seems like a waste of money when there is already a building there. He just wants to renovate. It’s not like it’s falling.
Like many people in Derby, they have fond memories of going to Assembly Halls over the years to see everything from big pop concerts to community theater.
Summer Fielding, 17, performed there in dance performances as she grew up and said if she was replaced she would like to see some of the building’s original character preserved. “I would like them to keep similar functionality, but to look a bit nicer,” she said.
“I would be very happy to keep the building, but if they want to get rid of it, we want them to rebuild something like we have,” said his grandfather, Norman Fielding, adding that he was not I was not impressed with the council’s plans to build an arena in another part of town.
The board is in discussion with the developers about the site’s future in a post-Covid urban landscape. North said one idea was to reconnect it to its roots in the market.
But others are adamant that the building should be part of the solution. “It’s tough, but it seems like the time is not right to complete these plans, when you have something that could be part of the recovery,” Saumarez Smith said. “We shouldn’t be living in a world where we demolish everything every 50 years.”