The Civic Centre

The Civic Centre from Cheapside.

When the Civic Centre was new, in 1979, it was given a Civic Trust Award.  The architects were Clifford Culpin and Partners and the contractor was Taylor Woodrow Construction (Midlands) Ltd..

The Award citation says: "This exceedingly well planned and sensitively detailed Civic Centre is more than just as distinguished new building.  It has been sited adroitly, in colour and scale it respects other notable neighbours, and it is the catlyst which has brought into life a truly civic group.  Such accommodation requirements could easily have resulted in a building of daunting bulk, but this problem has been skillfully resolved, the scale is compatible with the setting and the stepped profile gives added interest.  People move easily between the interior concourse and the new piazza which provides so noble a setting for the red sandstone west front of St. Peter's - 'proud parish church of a prosperous town'.  Looking back into the piazza from Exchange Street, the Civic Centre profile echoes the buttressed wall of the church.  Looking westwards down the newly pedestrianised  Cheapside, the symmetrical facade of the Victorian Town Hall nicely closes the vista.  The intimate nature of the piazza, the care that has been taken over the total design of the new building, and the contribution that this development has made to the townscape of Wolverhampton is remarkable."

The Award does not allocate a style label to the building, but post-modern vernacular might do.

The building does not receive universal approval from the good citizens of Wolverhampton.  This may be something to do with the fact that it is occupied by the city council and that is enough to condemn it.  Other objections taken are that it is wrongly sited.  It should have been built up against the Ring Road, improving the appearance of the Ring Road and allowing the view down Cheapside to contain the whole Town Hall, not just an odd bit of it.  It was widely thought at the time that the siting was determined by the need to keep away from the ring road so that the Regional Seat of Government, located in the bowels of the earth under the Civic Centre, would not be disturbed by traffic vibration.

The Civic Centre from the west front of St. Peter's, with the old Town Hall in the background.
But quite possibly the massive whole created when the Centre was built was needed, not for a Regional Seat of Government, but for three floors of car park and a few other services.

The existence of the  RSG there is still denied, even these days when most of the others have been sold off and opened to public inspection.  It also turned out that the many balconies were not strong enough to support trailing plants, which would nicely soften the outlines.  The interior has a remarkable pseudo-atrium, without top lighting, lending the place an air of gloom.

Nevertheless the general principles enunciated in the Award seem about right to me - and the building got several other awards too, even one for the brickwork.  I will add a personal and curious thought about the design of this building.  Compare the picture above with this one:

This is the Panch Mahal at Fatehpur Sikri, the 16th century capital city of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.  It too is built of a red material (though sandstone, not brick), has a stepped profile, is sited in a large piazza, and stands near the top of a hill, just below the chief mosque, with balconies overlooking the area administered from the City.  Well, it's an interesting association.

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List of Awards