Demolition Risk for Listed 20th Century Buildings
Twentieth Century Society, a campaigning charity, has recently announced that a wide range of buildings that are at risk of demolition, including the BFI Imax, the former headquarters of Birds Eye and a 1980s brutalist Whitehall office block. The list of top 10 20th century buildings most at risk even included some buildings that have been granted listed status in the UK (which should be enough to save them from demolition and to maintain consistency and integrity of renovations and refurbishment in future).
Catherine Croft, the director of Twentieth Century Society, has warned that even those with listed status might be at risk, with the status only being viewed as a ‘minor inconvenience for determined developers’. The Society wants to bring awareness to the issues of redevelopment where historic sites and buildings of cultural importance are demolished in order to build new apartment blocks, office spaces and the like. Once these cultural buildings and artefacts are gone, they won’t be coming back.
It is important to maintain that balance between the old and new whenever a redevelopment is being pursued. This is especially important in city centres and urban areas where certain building and structures have a significance beyond the immediate use. The cultural narrative and story of an area is important, and it is vital that we do not lose sight of this as a country, allowing for residential and commercial developments to knock down history and leave us with a bland, corporate skyline with no flair, compassion, or artistry. Every area has a story to tell, and we should allow that to continue, and not be turned away from it by demands for jobs, jobs, and jobs. It is a short-term argument that in decades to come is likely to be regretted for the loss of culture initiated as a result.
Half of the buildings in the top 10 are located within the London Area. This includes Richmond House, which was once the headquarters of the department for health and social security. It opened in 1987 and was designed by architects William Whitfield and Andrew Lockwood. This particular building is planned to be demolished as part of the plan to build a temporary House of Commons chamber and offices during the refurbishment project for the Palace of Westminster.
Richmond House is Grade II listed, a sub category of listed buildings in the UK that makes up just 5.8% of all listed buildings, and it is deemed an architecturally important structure due to its entrance turrets, working portcullis, and stunning staircase.
The society has been active in its fight against individual cases of demolition in recent years, though the majority have been lost. There is a real argument that many of these buildings could be renovated to a high standard and used for commercial and residential space. The fact that so many new developments aim to knock down and build characterless buildings to replace structures full of character displays a real lack of imagination on the part of some developers and architects.