Thursday, September 20, 2007

School of Art, Birmingham

Schools, colleges, universities – they’re all buildings that ask for the best in design, but so often money, timing, expediency, or politics dictate that they don’t get what they deserve. J H Chamberlain, a Leicester-born architect who worked in Birmingham in the second half of the 19th century, wasn’t having any of that. As architect of Birmingham’s board schools he produced buildings that were a cut above the usual. And for the city’s School of Art he pulled out all the stops.

The School of Art is a very Victorian blend of brick, terracotta, stone, and tile. It’s very Gothic, too, with lots of pointed arches, little niches, and bits of moulding and carving. Elements like the repeated narrow windows and the band of tiles and moulded panels running around the building hold it all together. It must have inspired the first students when the doors opened in 1885. Even if modern students don’t quite respond in the same way to its Ruskinian Gothic, they still benefit from its light interiors, can still admire its glowing orange brickwork, and can still reflect that it was worth all the care that Chamberlain and his builders took.

No comments: