Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Saturday 6th June 2020

The Birmingham Post and Mail Building

PostGlossary Term [1] and Mail Building in Colmore Circus, designed in 1960 by John H.D. Madin and Partners (partner in charge, D.V. Smith, project architects Ronald E. Cordin and Ramon K. Wood). It's an early example of a podiumGlossary Term [2] and slab blockGlossary Term [3], inspired by the Lever Building in New York.

It is also now the earliest surviving example of the type nationally as the Castrol Building in London has been altered and re-faced. But it's more than just an office block, it's an integrated newspaper production facility with the podiumGlossary Term [4] and slab offices linked to a separately treated but very fine attached printing works.

When it was built the Architects' Journal gave it a twenty page description and said that its 'well considered exterior... sets a new standard among some extremely dull neighbours' in Birmingham. Douglas Hickman in his 1971 book on Birmingham buildings said that it 'set a new standard for commercial building in the city centre' and calls it 'a remarkable achievementGlossary Term [5]'. Alexandra Wedgwood in 'The Buildings of England: Warwickshire' (1966) says that it is 'marked by characteristic good detail and good use of materials'. Madins regarded it as one of their two most important works - the other, ten years later, being the Central Library.

The building is now condemned to demolition, probably later this year, after two listing attempts failed. Planning permission has been given for a new, taller tower on the site, and for replacement office and printing works for the PostGlossary Term [6] and Mail on the edge of the city.

reinforcedGlossary Term [7] concreteGlossary Term [8] and steel structure with glass and aluminium claddingGlossary Term [9] panels on tower. Beautiful materials are used: in the podiumGlossary Term [10] the concreteGlossary Term [11] beams are clad in mullions of black Argentine granite enclosing fillets of white Sicilian marble.

The plan is based on the natural flow of newspaper production: at the right-hand end on Colmore Circus, a double-storey advertisement hall with directors' offices above. The entrance hall is at the left hand end of this block, and the tower, comprising mainly lettable offices, rises above. The outstanding dramatic feature of the exterior is the tall open arcadeGlossary Term [12] which links the advertisement hall to the editorial office across the front courtyard. To the left of the editorial block is the printing works with a composing room at top, a two-storey publishing area below it, and a machine hall in a deep basementGlossary Term [13].

Last updated: Monday, 26th January 2009