Sunday, 29 January 2012

John Madin, architect

Another obituary of an architect this week– John Madin. He was the designer of the Birmingham Library which contains the Paradise Square shopping centre I referred to last week. Madin was another architect who made a significant impact on modern design, although his Wikipedia entry (link here) references several of his buildings that have already been demolished. How does an architect feel when his work is pulled down?

As well as the rather brutalist library, Madin was responsible for a range of buildings from the Birming Post and Mail skyscraper (now demolished) to a holiday village in Malta. On the web site dedicated to him ( is a downloadable e-book with lots of detail from which some of these pictures have been taken.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross

An obituary in the papers last week reminded me of an amazing ’60s building I had seen on TV a while ago. The obituary was for Isi Metzstein, one of the architects of St Peter’s Seminary. Metzstein is credited with having a major influence on postwar ecclesiastical architecture.

St Peter’s was completed in 1966 as a Roman Catholic Seminary. However, it was never fully occupied and was eventually abandoned in the early 1980s. It was the first building in Scotland to receive a Grade A listing – and now it’s a ruin. Even in its present form, it’s possible to see what a striking building it must have been.  I’ve tried to find some images of what it looked like when it was first opened. The best I have found are from the Jan-March 1967 edition of the Concrete Quarterly from the Cement and Concrete Association.

The ’60s saw the use of unconcealed shuttered concrete in buildings. This is still very visible in the National Theatre on the South Bank. It was also used in the new halls of residence at IC – I was never a resident in these but several of my friends were. However, these were demolished a few years ago. All this is very apparent at St Peter’s and may have speeded its demise: it’s not the most popular of finishes and, I think, has just about been abandoned. There’s another example in a shopping arcade in Birmingham which has a very bold design rather spoiled by the very dull finish: They’ve tried to revitalise it by calling in ‘Paradise Circus’

However, look beyond the surfaces and there are some fantastic spaces and shapes in St Peter's. What a shame that, in spite of several attempts to reuse it, it still lies empty.

For more info and pictures today,  look up “St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross” on Wikipedia

The full Concrete Society journal can be downloaded here

Monday, 16 January 2012

Bureaucracy and ’elf ’n’ safety

The bank has relented and is now being sensible about opening the account! So fight silly bureaucracy if you get an opportunity.

I’ve been told I spelt it wrongly – it’s ’elf ’n’ safety!  Here’s a story where some sensible precautions would make sense – not bureaucratic HSE nonsense. I’ve abbreviated the story a little to copy it here. It starts with a man painting a church clock:

But the ladder isn’t just a long one from the ground:

And even this isn’t the end:

You can see the full story here:

Now, wouldn’t some simple Health and Safety precautions make sense here?

Saturday, 14 January 2012


I had fun yesterday fighting jobsworth bureaucracy! The Church is trying to open a new bank account – I won’t bore you with the reason. Churches have had charitable status for some time but only recently have we had to register with the Charities Commission. The bank as part of its processes wants to check the trustees of the charity. This is a reasonable procedure for small charities: I work with a few that are quite genuine but have a small group of trustees and operate from someone’s house. Our trustees are the members of the PCC and the bank was querying that the names supplied in the application form (in excess of 20) didn’t quite tie in with the list on the Charities Commission web site: correctly so because the site is as at the time of the return whereas the current membership of the PCC is slightly different. I couldn’t see why  a slight variation in the names made us a significant risk to the bank and so I challenged them. I was told that they needed the exact list and this was an FSA requirement. It was suggested that an alternative would be for our accountant to verify the list of trustees. When I said that we don’t have an accountant but asked if the Bishop could verify the list I was met with a stunned silence – then denial unless the Bishop is FSA registered!

So I phoned the FSA. The nice man there did some research and confirmed that there is no FSA requirement for banks to validate the full list of trustees: it’s a purely commercial decision. I reported this to the bank who is still trying to sort itself out. I’ll let you know the outcome.

But it’s like ’elth ’n’ safety: blamed for everything and causes common sense to go out of the window. Surely an established Church of England parish that has been around in some form for hundreds of years and can provide at least 20 names of its trustees can be trusted!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Good press for youngsters

Amid all the bad publicity that the youth seem to get these days, it was great to hear the item on Saturday Live last weekend about Joseff Edwards, 18, who drives the school bus to his school at Whitland, Carmarthenshire, then joins his passengers in the 6th form. You can hear the item here – sorry, BBC, this is probably copyright! There’s a picture on the Wales online web site.

I get cross that youngsters never seem to get anything but bad publicity yet most of the ones I meet are well behaved, committed and hard working. I did some practice interviews of potential 6th form candidates just before Christmas. Most of them were very impressive: one lad spoke in well-formed sentences (none of the “er... like...init.. stuff), one girl liked art (but not the really modern stuff, more the traditional old masters) and wants to be an engineer, and another, when asked what she did in her spare time said she writes: stories for children!