Sunday, 10 June 2012

Brent Arts Council opposes Willesden Green redevelopment

Brent Arts Council has made the following submission on the planning application for the regeneration of Willesden Green Library Centre and the demolition of the Victorian Library:
We are writing to oppose the current planning applications for the demolition of the existing library buildings and their replacement.
The Old Library. This has been well documented as an 1894 Newman and Newman building which has been extensively adapted and refurbished over its lifetime. In particular it was remodelled to allow the construction of the new Library Centre in about 1983. This included the removal of the two wing extensions along Brondesbury Park and Grange Road which had evolved as two storey structures soon after the original construction of single storey structures. In 1983 there was considerable debate about the fate of the original building and a compromise was negotiated in which the front corner landmark building be retained within the conservation area. The removal of the two rear wings necessitated the rebuilding of the remaining brickwork, remodelling of the corners and the moving of the front door to the rear for ease of access from the town square between the buildings. This was a brilliant compromise allowing the building to be remodelled and refurbished whilst retaining the external aspect of the building almost in its entirety.
In particular the roof line, pinnacle, first floor stucco and facing brickwork of the 1894 building have been retained and are a defining feature of the High Road and Brondesbury Park. Careful reference to the nearby buildings within the conservation area and, indeed beyond clearly show these to be the general vernacular. Gables and pinnacles abound on buildings such as the Post Office, St Andrews Church, Police Station etc. All buildings in the area are constructed of masonry and have been generally maintained as such. The height of local buildings are limited to three storeys.
The interior of the 1894 building has been maintained and refurbished to make it more accessible for current use. This includes the provision of a new steel staircase, plastering and other updated facilities. None of this is incompatible with the notion of conservation, bringing the facilities and access up to date for modern use, leaving the exterior of the building as a monument to the people of the area and as a landmark along the street scene. The previous removal of the two rear wings and the setting of the remaining building has enhanced its visual aspect by setting it apart in detached setting with public space abounding.
The size and the scale of the building is commensurate with the conservation ideal of the High Road and attracts the eye along the two frontages which are observed by local and casual passer by likewise. There is a rythm and flow of the building line and a human sense of scale in the context of a high street in the midst of regeneration for twenty first century use. Architecturally the building contributes generally to the sense of space and the general ambience of the locality.
1983 Library. This building has served the community well for twenty five years. Whilst the architecture is typical of its age and time, it has merit in that the architect has attempted to integrate into the High Road and Brondesbury Park ambience. The stepping back of the upper levels and the stepping in and out of the Brondesbury Park frontage creates an impression of local residential properties with bay windows. The masonry mirrors nearby buildings both within and outside the conservation area. There are spaces all around the building with raised beds for planting and paving for community gatherings and public art.
New Library Proposal. This building has no relationship with the surrounding space. It does not reflect the type of buildings in the locality. The height and scale of the building is overbearing and the architecture is generic and bland. The height of the building appears to be almost twice the height of the surrounding structures on both the High Road and Brondesbury Park. the dimensions of the new building seem to be entirely random, possibly driven by a desire to build against the backline of the pavement with no particular reference to the buildings nearby and the locality, thus destroying the current sense of space around the building on each elevation and across the site in general.
Arts Provision. The area of the current building set aside for arts and literature is actually greater than proposed in the new building. Comparison tables of floor areas have been published clearly showing these reductions. The library book provision is less than the current building and the position of various parts of the library is less convenient and illogically arranged. In particular the children's library has been moved to the first floor requiring small children and people with buggies to be forced to use the lift access, a less convenient or welcoming experience to that which is currently enjoyed at ground floor.
Performance spaces. Brent is sadly lacking in performance spaces and venues for music, drama and dance. Brent Council has now removed the Paul Daisley Hall from public use pending the closure of the Wembley Town Hall later this year. There is now no dedicated performance space. The new Civic Centre has multi-use spaces which are inappropriate for formal productions due to their layout and the sharing of facilities with commercial lettings. Any new Cultural Centre concept should incorporate proper, adequately sized performance spaces. The small rooms and spaces are not adequate for this purpose and therefore the concept of a cultural centre is incorrect. The building needs to be larger in order to incorporate such areas bearing in mind that there is already a large performance space (the cinema ) in the current 1983 building making a like for like comparison. The function room immediately leading into the terrace is small and not practical for drama or dance performances. 
Architecture. The cantilever overhang with its small terrace does not appear to have a practical function. If it is intended for it to provide a vista along the High Road, this is clearly not possible because it is angled diagonally counter to the existing street layout, the view will be into the tree canopy and will be directly pointed towards the corner of the coffee shop building. The function room immediately leading into this terrace is small and not practical for drama or dance performances. The vertical cladding shown on the plans are out of place in the Willesden High Road area which has brickwork and horizontal banding at various locations. The fa├žade of a local derelict pub building, The Spotted Dog has been retained as part of a reconstruction as residential units, thus indicating that the conservation area is important as part of the planning environment. It is considered that the current scheme has no architectural merit and it would be better to refurbish the 1983 building and retain the 1894 Heritage Building.

Martin Redston,
Chair Brent Arts Council
(reg charity no 1028005)

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