Monday, September 24, 2007

Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

This building began life as Oozells Street School, one of the board schools designed by J H Chamberlain, architect of Birmingham’s School of Art (see previous blog entry). These outstanding buildings were built as the result of a drive on the part of Birmingham’s politicians (especially the Liberals under the leadership of Joseph Chamberlain, no relation to the architect) to make Birmingham better. The fruits of this work included a library, the Council House, the Art School, and 30 board schools. This one is a quality Gothic building in brick with stone ornament, evidence of what its architect had learned from Ruskin and of his employers’ commitment to providing decent school buildings for their children.

In 1997 the school was converted for use as an art gallery. The architects of the conversion, Levitt Bernstein, added new floors and incorporated glass extensions to accommodate the stairs and lifts. They weren’t afraid to be modern, juxtaposing their glass-and-steel stair towers with Chamberlain’s brick walls and Gothic openings. The contrast works. The see-through stair tower gives you close-up glimpses of the fine Victorian detailing while the stair itself adds all kinds of new lines and curves in counterpoint to those of the original structure. It’s a happy marriage of the two styles, and a testimony to the ability of English buildings to combine old and new in dramatic and interesting ways.

No comments: