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Sell Off Approaching For Plymouth Civic Centre

With the economy starting to recover again, Plymouth Council is looking at selling off its listed Civic Centre, a landmark modernist complex that was designed by Hector Stirling and engineered by Ove Arup.

The city of Plymouth was bombed extensively in World War 2 with the building proposed as the centerpiece of the Abercombie Plan, a 1940s masterplan to rebuild Plymouth that would have a grand central avenue and a council building as the new landmark. Central to this would be a new tower, something that has been used as the dominant vertical element in town halls across England for hundreds of years albeit with a Modernist reinterpretation that perhaps bears more resemblance to the Seagram Building than Manchester Town Hall.

Within the complex many original details survive including high quality materials that went into the construction and ornamentation of the exterior such as slate cladding and the original glass mosaics that were created in Italy by traditional craftsmen. The interior boasts lift shafts with wooden veneer panels and strong Modernist patterns on the lift doors whilst the council chamber is perhaps the most valuable part of the development.
Original high quality art work remains ranging from exotic woods like African elm to murals by Mary Adshead and curtains by Hans Tisdall.

Perhaps of most interest is a part of the building that is rarely seen - the plant areas. Unusual for a building of such an age the services within date to the period it was built with much of them having not been upgraded. The heating is particularly unique with two thermal stores equipped with 11kV immersion heaters which are rarely found in such large buildings.

The thinking behind these dates back to the time of the building construction when the Suez Crisis was ongoing and there was briefly a consideration that Britain was too dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Planners also believed that nuclear power would expand until was powering the vast majority of the United Kingdom hence the idea of avoiding fossil fuels.

Ventilating the building is pipework that has cork and plaster, another feature that has rarely survived in buildings. Indeed such much of the plant and services is so original that the only part that has been superseded is the refrigeration unit, although even in this case the original remains sitting there.

Ironically for a listed building, the structure itself is not considered particularly important. There is nothing pioneering about it, and the contemporary building press never saw it as a leading example despite the involvement of famous engineer, Ove Arup. Nonetheless importance can be construed from the simple fact that the building is a survivor that has outlasted many of its cousins.

With this in mind, Plymouth City Council now seek to sell the building off, but will have to find a seller that respects the heritage aspect of the grade 2 listing. 36 involved parties consisting of 22 different groups attended the first bidders day. The process will now be to whittle them down until a final owner can be agreed on in June 2013.

A feasibility study by Avanti Architects in 2009 foresaw numerous options including offices, residential, hotel with both the office and residential choices having the option of a library whilst the hotel could have retail but what happens in the end is anyone's guess.

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Civic Centre

Civic Centre
Civic Centre, Plymouth
Civic Centre, Plymouth