Video Strolls choose a film per month to showcase on Caught by the River. Here, Roxanna Collins introduces this month’s selection – her tribute to Reading Borough Council Civic Centre.
Reading Borough Council Civic Centre Rest in Peace
I have a tattoo of Birmingham Central Library. It lovingly provides outward longevity for a building that very much felt like a part of me. For a long time I mulled over which 70s Marmite building to have permanently etched next, and although I’ve not yet gone through with it, Reading Civic Centre seemed a natural choice.
In 2001, fresh from sixth form, I ventured south to Reading Uni to embark on a journey of self-discovery through creativity and the built environment (I studied fine art of course, but with history of art and architecture – the most enjoyable course that could ever exist). I quickly became obsessed with the Civic Centre. It was such a bizarre structure and such a statement for Reading, otherwise lost as an average London satellite town (literally average: the town was specifically used in market research for this reason, just one of the freshers’ week ‘facts’ pumped into subordinate me). Built in the 70s, it felt like an earthen-toned version of a Star Trek set, with colour-coded lifts taking you to different levels depending on the lift. Sadly I only ever entered the atrium area of post-office cashier-style counters with its hard-wearing shiny surfaced floors upon which civil servant and civilian shoes’ created a Pollock of scuff marks.
Perhaps Reading Civic Centre helped me through my initial grieving period, having wrenched myself from the comforting arms of concrete monoliths, busy streets, the Ikon gallery and alternative night life. When my eyes set upon the Civic Centre, I noticed a spirit in Reading I’d not previously read from its this-could-be-anywhere streetscapes: a hint of stirring ambition for being different, and I felt a new warming to the town’s quirky charm.
In 2016, the building was demolished, after lying empty for nearly a year. In 2015 I made a purposeful trip to Reading to document it before the hoardings arrived. Around this time I was approached by Andy at Video Strolls, and asked to consider creating an installation for a post-industrial space above Centrala gallery and café. Reading Civic Centre’s impending demolition was eating me whole so this opportunity and resultant film was a welcome relief to let out my frustrations and sadness.
Following the ongoing Birmingham Central Library demolition trauma, Reading Civic Centre’s destruction raised the question: should how we are emotionally affected by our built environment be given formal consideration in the planning process? Not just by a simple yes/no, relatively meaningless consultative questionnaire, but on a scale of how strongly we feel about something and how much it aggrieves us? Then we might know whether the emotive output of those supposedly opposed to 60s and 70s architecture outweighs or equates to the strength of feeling from the ‘minority’ of concrete lovers.
RBC CC RIP
See last month’s Video Strolls post here.