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Blogger Lawrence Bailey finds some divergence by design

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: August 12, 2014

The Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea was not the first choice to become the home of the Year of Literature.

The Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea was not the first choice to become the home of the Year of Literature.

Comments (3)

THERE'S a wry saying in the development business that true beauty lays in the eye of the client. In other words, no-one can ever agree on what constitutes good design.

Buildings always reflect someone's ambition and sense of creativity. There is a purpose involved although sometimes the product happens by accident.

For example, you may not know, it but the Dylan Thomas Centre in Somerset Place was not the first choice to become the home of the Year or Literature. The original site for Ty Llên was to be on Oxford Street opposite the Grand Theatre.

A new building design was commissioned from an internationally renowned architect and put to councillors.

To my tasteless eye, it looked a stack of dry lasagne sheets, but I thought it would work. I was in a very small minority and the design was eventually thrown out.

It's this love-hate relationship with the built environment that makes Swansea the distinct and divergent place it has become.

The city's immediate post-war architecture gets a lot of bad press. Yet we should remember that the town planners of the day thought of themselves as being on a social mission.

Their viewpoint was that a bright modern town with wide streets should emerge from the blitzed ruins. The approach was really no different from the collective aim to provide people with new council housing and free public health.

Since then, a changing world has tastes veer from restoration to retro and a move from public to privately funded construction as the norm.

Swansea however has been shaped by too many cooks. There have been a few landmark schemes but conflicting agendas and a lack of commercial insight have taken their toll. Now and then it feels like those in charge still hanker after the day when everything was built by the council, and are unable to loosen their grip.

One of the city's success stories has been the conservation area approach towards new development. A visitor walking up lower Wind Street would be amazed to realise that they were looking at the side of a multi-storey car park.

It's a pity that this heritage-driven thinking was not applied to the proposed mirror facade for the former Evening Post building at Adelaide Street. But that's just my opinion.

Locally, we have several excellent examples of modern functionality. Maggie's Centre at Singleton, the 360 Watersports centre and the Dynevor campus are all well thought-out designs with imaginative elements.

Meridian Tower is an imposing feature, but pretty much off-the-shelf in terms of structural design. The same can be said of most of SA1, although there are a few notable exceptions.

Our heritage is never far away, and bringing older buildings back into use has become a local speciality. Ty Tom Jones, the Swansea Foyer (former Workingmen's Institute) at Alexandra Road and the old central police station have restored facades with modern inventive interiors.

I very much hope that a similar rescue package can be given to the old Palace Theatre and Elysium Buildings in High Street, although I fear it might be too late for both these two imposing structures.

Anyway, what I've been building up to here is to tell you that there is plenty to appreciate and that next month is the 10th year of the popular Swansea Open House initiative. This event encourages public and private properties to provide free public access for viewing.

I recommend going along to see that architecture and design is not just cherished in Swansea but occasionally flourishes.

Swansea Open House takes place on September 13 and 14. You can visit their website on www.swanseaopenhouse.com for details.

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3 comments

  • helikon  |  August 14 2014, 1:57PM

    I think you are being strangely polite about the calibre of Swansea's urban architecture. Or are your comments a little tongue in cheek? A hotch-potch of building design and unplanned juxtaposition of old and new is to be expected in a city that saw extensive bomb damage (Derby, Coventry, etc) but the last decade has witnessed appalling levels of taste. The faceless, featureless block that is the Waterfront Museum is a stark abomination with no hope of marrying the city to its maritime antecedents. It even fails to be functionally acceptable with entrances in odd places and wasted internal/external space. As for the Vue cinema complex, what on earth were the planners smoking to think that this icing sugar pastiche was acceptable?

  • andybeacham  |  August 14 2014, 12:14PM

    Never realised that Dylan Thomas Centre was second choice venue for Year of Literature. We learn something everyday. BTW Gowerview, I think you're a little confused about how the function of an opinon column is to ... well ... offer opinions.

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  • Gowerview  |  August 13 2014, 8:41PM

    'Multi-million pound investment and landmark regeneration of Swansea City centre completed . A landmark ,eye catching regeneration of Swansea city centre is now open for business. A 21st century complex ancored by House of Fraser and comprising many more high calibre shops ,eateries ,offices and a prestige concert venue has now been completed. The modern city centre venue 'Dylan's Way' , sitting alongside the Quadrant ,built on the former St Davids centre has been quickly progressed after thirty years of little investment . Welsh Assembly , a recognised private developer partner and European objective One funding has helped the scheme ' What we should be reading....not blog after blog of never ending opinion.

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