Using a building for real

Unless a new building is a gallery or performance space, or perhaps a restaurant, the architectural writer tends not to make use of it.

True you may look at photos, read about it or even visit, but that is not the same.

Such was the case with Brent Civic Centre, designed by Hopkins Architects, which I recall being submitted for the Wood Awards. It didn’t get anywhere because there really wasn’t enough timber. This is largely a concrete building – and a very good one, as I discovered when I went there today to register my father’s death.

The registrar sat with his back to the atrium and I thought what a pleasurable space it was. It was a filthy day and we entered from the car park, which is an unprepossessing as car parks always are. But once you get inside, it is logical and generous and well organised and doesn’t have that slightly downtrodden ‘civic’ feel but still exudes gravitas.

Deaths are never joyous, even in cases like my father’s which was in a sense long overdue. But it is always interesting, among all the other emotions, to experience a building ‘for real’. Well done Hopkins.

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