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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Junkitecture: Goodbye to all that?
Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre
Birmingham's Bull Ring bites the dust
Sixties architecture: love it or loathe it, it is starting to disappear.

E-cyclopedia
Thrown up in a world-wide burst of enthusiasm for bare-faced concrete, Birmingham's Bull Ring, the Gorbals housing estate in Glasgow, and squat Paternoster Square nestling up to St Paul's Cathedral looked considerably worse for wear 30 years on.

So the bulldozers moved in.

In place of the anonymous slabs and geometric shapes will rise gleaming multi-million pound developments, bringing style to city centres for the new millennium.

The future is now

Birmingham traders' representative Simon Beddall has heralded the 800m market centre replacing the Bull Ring as a "fresh start".

The Bullring in 1964
The Bull Ring in the 60s: The future of shopping?
But wait - that's pretty much what they said of the Bull Ring, which doubled as a central city roundabout, back in 1964.

"There's nothing quite like it in the world," said a 1964 promotional film over shots of snappily dressed Brummies experiencing the future of shopping.

By the 1980s, the Bull Ring had been consigned to the bargain bin of junkitecture.

"It has no charm, no human scale, no character except arrogance," said Prince Charles.

"It is a planned mistake."

Wish you weren't here

The Bull Ring featured in photographer Martin Parr's exhibition Boring Postcards, a yawn-inducing collection of the UK's dullest sights.

The Bullring
Ring roads around the Bull Ring cut off the central city
Most of Parr's choices dated from the 1950s to the 1970s. He has bequeathed the collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum which described it as an "influential record of British social history".

When these monstrosities were brand-spanking new, they were regarded as novelties and icons of modern Britain.

Many turned out to be expensive eyesores or failed social experiments such as the tower block housing estates in the Gorbals and the Cresents in Hulme in Manchester.

Send in the bulldozers

The common response has been to call in the demolition experts.

The Royal Bank of Scotland plans to topple bulky Edinburgh office block New St Andrew's House, for which it paid 20m, and redevelop the site.

'Blame the planners'

Ruth Slavid, deputy editor of The Architects' Journal, said bad urban planning was the prime sin in the 1960s.

"The Bull Ring is a piece of very bad city planning, rather than anything else - the centre of Birmingham being cut off by roads.

"Retail developments in general need to be changed quite frequently. Any retail building of that age would be out-dated - the food courts with a cinema plunked alongside.

"It is just not the way people want to shop anymore."

Cycles of fashion

But not all cities have joined the rush to divest their streets of 60s junkitecture.

The Gorbals
Glaswegians watch the demolition of the Gorbals
When the bulldozers moved in on the Aviemore Centre in the Scottish Highlands in 1998, locals cheered its demise.

However, nostalgia for its distinctive 1960s' architecture soon surfaced among experts who wanted a lasting record of the centre as an historic monument.

Ms Slavid said: "We have moved away from hating everything built in that time, and individual buildings are being assessed on their merits."

Sixties office blocks which stood empty a decade ago have been given a new lease of life by the diminishing dimensions of modern technology.

As computers get smaller and services such as lifts and air-conditioning systems more compact, the low-ceilinged buildings have come back into their own.

"They have become more usable, and some have been converted for residential use."

As part of Manchester's 500m project to rebuild in the wake of the IRA bombing, moribund 1960s office blocks are being converted into flats.

Sought after

A number of 60s buildings are now held up as shining examples of the architect's craft.

West London's 31-storey Trellick Tower - once so infamous it inspired JG Ballard's novel High Rise, in which residents waged war on each other's floors - is now a listed building, populated by the upwardly mobile.

"That period of fear and loathing is over now," Ms Slavid said.

"People adore Trellick Tower now."

E-cyclopedia can be contacted by e-mail at e-cyclopedia@bbc.co.uk

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