Hull approves 'hugely damaging' Leslie Martin building revamp

Elizabeth Hopkirk

Leslie Martin's Middleton Hall, Hull

‘Decision a real blow for Hull’s heritage,’ says C20

The Twentieth Century Society has criticised Hull planners for approving “hugely damaging changes” to a listed Leslie Martin building.

The decision this week “makes a mockery of the heritage system designed to protect it”, said C20’s senior conservation adviser Henrietta Billings.

Hull University appointed local architect Westray Keith Phelps to design alterations and extensions to Middleton Hall, an auditorium which stands at the gateway to its campus.

The plans won consent last year, after which a long-delayed listing application was fast-tracked and the building, with its integral chapel, was given grade II protection.

The architect then had to resubmit an amended application, which planners approved on Wednesday night.

“This is a real blow for Hull’s twentieth-century heritage,” said Billings.

“Leslie Martin was one of Britain’s great twentieth-century architects and these extensions and alterations will cause great harm to the architecture of Middleton Hall. The building was listed only last year and this decision makes a mockery of the heritage system designed to protect it.”

Martin designed the Royal Festival Hall in London as well as a number of other university buildings.

He had a special association with Hull because he was head of the school of architecture there early in his career, before becoming Cambridge’s first professor of architecture.

Hull commissioned him to produce a development plan to bring coherence to its campus.

“As part of this process he designed Middleton Hall, which is one of the few buildings which is considered to be entirely his own work rather than jointly credited with one of his close circle of associates,” said English Heritage in its listing submission.

“Middleton Hall expresses the themes of his best work of the later 1950s and the 1960s in its low key, careful brick massing, and ability to create simple but strongly emotive spaces.”

The plans including the insertion of external plant between the hall and the chapel which are notable for their visual separation and distinction.

Billings wrote to Hull council saying: “We are very concerned that no professional conservation consultants have been appointed as part of the team drawing up the plans, and we are concerned that despite the grade II listing, the plans for alterations and extensions remain very similar to the consented scheme and in our opinion the benefits of the scheme do not outweigh the harm to its historic significance.”

The university has split the original scheme into two phases and is expected to apply for permission for phase 2 later this year.

Twentieth Century Society’s concerns

Externally, one of the most important features of this building is the visual separation and distinction of the two principle elements of the site (Middleton Hall and the Chapel) as seen from the main elevation which faces Cottingham Road. This separation will be filled in with the proposed external plant, and the large lift extension will disrupt the visual simplicity of the ‘box’ of the chapel. Internally, the loss of the internal patio and narrowing of the corridor will result in harmful and irreversible changes to the plan form of the building that necessitate complex changes for a specific use. In addition, the acoustic requirements for the rehearsal and recording studios will result in the irreversible loss of architectural details such as floor, wall and ceiling details. This is particularly regrettable as over the longer term, the requirements of the university may change and the music facilities may be moved elsewhere.

While we appreciate the time constraints that the University is working to with regards to meeting demand for student facilities, we are extremely concerned that the full architectural significance has not been taken into account in the overall approach to the changes required. It is extremely important that decisions about this building which substantially harm its heritage significance are not rushed through to meet rigid academic timeframes.

 

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