Gutted: Britain’s best concert hall

Gutted: Britain’s best concert hall


norman lebrecht

November 05, 2019

This is Birmingham’s Symphony Hall today, its front ripped out by bulldozers.

photo: Graham Young / BirminghamLive

The hall, opened by the Queen in June 1991 and acclaimed as the best acoustic in Britain, is building a new foyer.

But at what cost to its architectural integrity?




  • Steve says:

    Well, Norman, if you’re talking about the visual integrity, there wasn’t much to wreck really. The magnificent concert hall has always been housed in a very unprepossessing building, reflecting the fact that, for political and financial reasons, its construction was “hidden” within a convention centre project. The foyer and public areas outside the hall itself have always been substandard and it’s to be hoped that the new development will be an improvement.

    • LewesBird says:

      Amen to that. “But at what cost to its architectural integrity?” Huh? Seriously? Lovely acoustics, which is really all that matters, but that building never had any architectural integrity whatsoever — not inside and certainly not outside. It’s an eyesore of the first order, and I can’t think it possible that anyone who’s actually ever been there could possibly disagree. So long as they don’t tinker with the acoustics, they can do absolutely anything to this building and statistically chances are it will come out better.

      • Esther Cavett says:

        Another melodramatic SD title. Ha;; is not ‘gutted’. Merely adjusting the foyer which was pretty rubbish anyway.

  • Appleby M says:

    Birmingham knocks stuff down and rebuilds all the time. It’s a dynamic city. The front of house at Symphony Hall was getting tired and cramped; this will be more spacious and more comfortable for all concerned. The facade that’s going was anonymous 1980s shopping precinct stuff. The only part of the building that really matters, musically – the auditorium – will be completely untouched.

    Now, the recent, pointless resurfacing of Centenary Square and the destruction of John Madin’s brutalist Central Library – those were genuine acts of architectural barbarism. But the swell of national outrage that could have saved them was not forthcoming…

  • Dennis says:

    Well, so long as the hall itself and its acoustic aren’t altered, nothing they do to that facade could be any worse than the brutalist concrete and glass eyesore already there.

    • Derek says:

      The proposed changes will be an improvement in design, space and facilities.

    • LewesBird says:

      Oh, but I bet to differ. If only it were brutalist. As a previous commentator noted, the destruction of the truly brutalist Madin library next door was a catastrophe.

      This is not brutalist. Not at all. It’s just cheap post-modernist. It’s a shopping mall. It’s nothing. It has no style. It’s intellectually complacent and æsthetically bland. It’s an eyesore because it’s lazy and stands for nothing.

      • Will says:

        “It’s just cheap post-modernist. It’s a shopping mall. It’s nothing. It has no style.” – people would have said the same kind of thing about brutalism not that long ago. With time I suspect post-modernism will be more greatly appreciated.

  • Olassus says:

    Perhaps they can replace while they are at it the Crimson-Ferrari-Scarlet seats.

  • Michael Turner says:

    As a Brummie, and a CBSO regular in my teens, I well remember Symphony Hall being built.

    While I cannot disagree with the view that the exterior of the building does not match the quality of the hall within, what Birmingham has been very good at is not completely obliterating those periods of architectural history which might be considered less aesthetically pleasing than others. For example, there are buildings such as the Rotunda (which was completed in 1965) which were previously considered eyesores but which, with a little repurposing, now stand as monuments to a period of development which might easily have been lost to us.

    In terms of Symphony Hall, the fact that Birmingham might sport such an excellent facility was not a foregone conclusion. Perhaps, therefore, by not completely revamping the building’s façade and foyer we will be reminded of how hard-won the hall was in the first place.

  • John says:

    Symphony Hall – Sir Simon Rattle’s finest achievement during his Birmingham years. Can’t say I was much troubled by the old foyer on my way to the Elysian fields inside

    • Wally Francis says:

      The obvious thing to say – and not without some merit; but Sir Adrian Boult and later on Louis Fremaux also played a significant part in the CBSO finally getting the concert hall it so justly deserved.

  • Bill says:

    Not gutted, but scaled.

  • Tim Walton says:

    It’s not affecting the Hall itself. Just improving the facilities