Civic Centre – Plymouth

Council House former Civic CentreArmada Way Plymouth PL1 2AA

Former Civic Centre 1958-62 by Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge with city architect HJW Stirling. In-situ concrete structure with pre-cast aggregate panels. It comprises a fourteen storey slab block on a raised raft foundation which straddles a two storey block to the north and a bridge link to the two storey Council House to the south. The bridge link is elevated on pilotis to create an open courtyard with a reflecting pond, part of the designed landscape of the civic square. 

Current listing June 10th 2007 Historic England

I rode into town on my bicycle en route from Weston super Mare to Hastings one sunny afternoon in 2015. The pictures I took that day were largely left untouched, until today. I was prompted by an online postcard search to finally put them to some good use.

On the day of my visit the building was well and truly closed, and its future uncertain.

I took my time and explored the site, here is what I saw:

I subsequently found archival image of the interior – including examples of applied decorative arts.

The building has suffered of late, from poor maintenance and general neglect.

Love it or hate it, it’s one of Plymouth’s most iconic post-war buildings – and it towers over the city centre. But the Civic Centre has been empty since 2015, with sad images revealing parts of the outside literally crumbling.

Today is the day Plymouth will finally discover what developer Urban Splash plans to do with the landmark 14-storey tower block it bought for £1.

Plymouth Herald

Urban Splash are in the house – plans are to go ahead.

The proposal, by Gillespie Yunnie Architects, will see the 14-storey former council headquarters converted into 144 one and two-bedroom flats with the ground floors of the lower blocks providing about 4,600m² of office, retail and leisure space.

Unanimously approved last week, the scheme will open up the ground floor, making it ‘an active public space filled with outside seating for cafés, bars and restaurants’ and reuse the existing landscaped pools, while creating new pedestrian connections through the scheme from the Theatre Royal and Civic Square.

Architects Journal

Civic Centre Postcards – Newcastle and Plymouth

I’m more than partial to a picture postcard – I have penchant for the picaresque.

And in these troubled times there’s no safer way to travel.

I have some previous experience, exploring the precincts of our fair land – here and there.

Prompted by a post from Natalie Bradbury – I became intrigued by Newcastle Civic Centre cards, I have visited the site, but in this instance, we are taken there thus:

Let’s have a look inside:

The Council Chamber

Grand Entrance Hall

Its extensive rooms.

Which then led me to Plymouth – which I had visited some time ago, on my coastal cycle tour, another fine example of post-war Municipal Modernism.

Empty for some time it now seems that a change is going to come:

A long-awaited scheme to convert the empty Civic Centre tower block in Plymouth into flats is set to be given the go-ahead.

Planning applications to create 144 homes in the 14-floor landmark building in Armada Way are being recommended for approval. 

The scheme also proposes a mix of uses for the ground and first floors including shops, offices, cafes and restaurants, bars, hot food takeaway, art gallery, gym, creche and day nursery.

Plymouth Herald

Many of our fine Modernist civic buildings are under threat – as councils seek new premises for a new age.

Only the strong survive.

Doncaster – Police Station and Law Courts

I’ll try anything twice or more – including a trip to Doncaster.

Once in the rain two years ago, more recently in broken cloud and sunshine.

In search of the work of Frederick Gibberd .

Son of Coventry – architect, author and leading post-war planner.

From 1949 onwards plans were afoot to develop the Waterdale area of Doncaster – civic buildings, courts, educational provision and the like WH Price the Borough Surveyor at the helm. In 1955 Gibberd was appointed to oversee the site, though many of his designs were unrealised, his Police Station and Law Courts opened in 1969.

The area was also home to the Technical College and Coal – later Council House, both now demolished.

Information Doncaster Civic Trust.

The Courts and Police Station now nestle behind the much newer civic developments, part of much wider regeneration scheme.

So let’s go back in time to a wet day in 2016 – when first I chanced upon these municipal concrete bunkers of law and order – where Brutalism is embodied in the buildings content and purpose, as well as its style.

This is an architecture that instructs you to avoid wrongdoing at all costs – or suffer the inevitable consequences.

Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

2019 and I’m back again – architecturally little or nothing has changed, still standing – stolid solid pillars of justice. The day is brighter ever so slightly softening the harsh precast panels against a bluer spring sky.

Stopford House Again – Stockport

Do you come here often?

Well actually I do!

Here’s my account of my previous visits to Stopford House.

The large open public space that has almost everything except the public.

On the many occasions I have walked its concrete piazza, not once have I encountered another purposed soul – save the odd passing civic employee.

Unusually unchallenged by the diffident G4S or like as I snap away.

So come/go here, take a look – municipal concrete in the raw, softened by the controlled ingress of flowers and greenery.

Oh and not forgetting the recent addition of some curious coloured lines.

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Newcastle Civic Centre – Rooms

Following a path from the Grand Entrance and Council Chambers, my genial host and erudite guide Debbie took me behind the scenes into the back rooms. 

Further delights unfold in this most remarkable of buildings.

Firstly into the Banqueting Hall – beneath your feet Arabescato Marble, inset with a sprung dance floor and on the vaulted ceiling  hand carved African walnut. The slightly sloping walls are of Clapham Stone, with the only double glazed arrow slit windows in the country.

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The chandeliers are hand cut crystal from Westphalia and  have the Newcastle castles on the top part of the fitting.

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The seahorse carpet was recently replaced, digitally designed and woven to perfectly match the original.

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The facing wall is graced by a John Piper tapestry, which  represents the mineral resources of the area.

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Grilles by Geoffrey Clarke cover the alcoves and have an orange backlight to simulate a medieval fireplace.

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The room can seat up to six hundred people and is available for hire, in regular use for a wide variety of functions.

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The Model Room houses a magnificent architectural replica of the city.

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It is also blessed with a living, walking talking spiral staircase, cast in one single piece of steel, it moves with you as you ascend and descend.

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This ante room dressed with Arne Vodder furniture, walls clad in raw silk and hand carved wood, is a place green oasis, a sea of calm.

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Newscastle Civic Centre – The Grand Entrance

Opened on 14th November 1968 by King Olav of Norway, opened for me by Debbie Harvey on Friday 5th May 2017, thanks ever so much.

This takes us into architect George Kenyon’s Civic Centre 

Cast Aluminium portals and reveals to Ceremonial Entrance by Geoffrey Clarke.

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Staff on reception were once able to notify officials of the arrival of guests and dignitaries, using this right bang up to the minute electrical intercom.

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To the right is the engraved John Hutton Screen engraved glass panels depicting – the inventive genius of Tyneside’s most famous sons and daughters.

From left to right: George Stephenson the steam locomotive, Sir Charles Parson the turbine engine, Sir Joseph Swan electric light bulb, Lord Armstrong the gun.

Brigantia – Celtic Goddess of the tribe, The Three Mothers – offering fruit for fertility, Mithras – the slaying of the bull , Coventina  the goddess of a well, she reclines on a water-borne leaf and below her are three intertwined figures of nymphs of streams,  for in those days every self-respecting stream had its own tutelary deity. All have been found when Roman temples have been unearthed on the Roman wall.

 

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A twenty three foot high, eleven tiered chandelier of hand cut Bavarian crystal from Westphalia, hangs above your head. This chandelier was commissioned on behalf of Newcastle City for the opening of the building in 1968. It has 119 light bulbs, the crystal on the top is in the shape of a castle on the base of the chandelier are sea horses. The walls are lined with random English oak, the floor down stairs is Portuguese Verde Viana marble.

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Elegant Arne Vodder designed sofas litter the entrance, this truly is a palace of delights a temple of  Municipal Socialism, take your shoes off set a spell.

Y’all come back now!

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Newcastle Civic Centre – Council Chamber

Within the exterior of architect George Kenyon’s distinguished civic drum sits the inner sanctum of the Council Chamber – my thanks to the delightful head of hospitality Debbie Harvey for providing me with the most erudite and educational tour.

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Outside the division bell, set against Danish slate, was originally to be found on the HMS Newcastle.

This silver bell is of the 10,000 ton cruiser HMS Newcastle presented to the ship by the Lord Mayor and citizens of Newcastle upon Tyne to mark her commissioning in 1937. Launched by the Duchess of Northumberland on the 23rd January 1936 at the Walker Naval Yard. In 1959 HMS Newcastle was towed from Portsmouth to Newport Monmouthshire to be broken up.

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The entrance padded with soft green leather the door clad in hand carved Cedar of Lebanon.

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We illuminated the illuminated sign and entered – what treasures await, leather and teak furniture by acclaimed Danish designer Arne Vodder, worth thousands and thousands of pounds. Fine Swedish marble and further Cedar of Lebanon acoustic cladding, each surface of the highest quality and chosen to enhance the sound properties of the space. The councillors seated once a month on 149 leather clad  seats with integral voting and microphone modules. A high grey, skylight lit domed ceiling.

This is work of the highest possible quality, a proud summation of Municipal Socialism, our friends in the North, matched with the imaginary world of the Man from Uncle.

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