Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Cardiff and Buildings Past

Architecture is one of my main loves. For someone who adores trees and countryside as much as I do, I find the aesthetic of buildings and structures as beautiful and intriguing as pieces of art.

Cardiff has never interested me architecturally like other cities and places do/have done. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Cardiff was ugly and unremarkable even to a child.

Wandering through the city centre in 2018, which I do pretty much daily, I am always struck by the changes this small but sturdy Welsh capital where I was born and raised has undertaken. Rumblings began in the 1990s; a shape-shift exercise. The rugby world cup final in Cardiff in 1999 saw one of the main new developments - a brand new 74,500 seated stadium slap bang in the heart of the city. A spikey ship masted-like structure (with a retractable roof which sometimes reminds me of a giant bread bin); it seemed so space-age and giant. A burst of new bars and hotels subsequently opened - and as an sixth form student at the time, all this was particularly exciting. I cringe a little at the naivety of this exuberance at the time, but it was what it was - the rawness of a mid-size town beginning to hit with the big boys.

The developments have continued into the 21st century, as Cardiff has matured and evolved into a place where world events are held. It is great, of course - more choices, more things to do.

However, I pine for the old structures. The shadows of the past that told stories now lost in a city where barely nothing old remains - the swarms of students tapping their laptops in bland generic coffee shops (which are boringly the same anywhere in the world) in Cardiff Bay may not have any appreciation that they are sitting on top of a place which was, at one point, the busiest port in the world. And in fairness, why would they. Barely nothing remains of these remnants amongst these soulless chains.

Beyond this, there are particular buildings I personally yearn to stand beneath one last time, and appreciate their wonder.

The demolished national stadium - a mammoth concrete of a clenched fist. A concrete brutalist lover, I didn't fully appreciate at the time just how beautiful this concrete beast was. The claws of concrete was a comforting grasp of the heart of the city - a place where the country would unite over sporting joys and woes.

It was demolished in 1997 - I was at the last game there, where Cardiff RFC beat Swansea RFC in the cup final (this was before regional rugby of course). The stadium was outdated and needed change - there was nothing for facilities and there was the huge uncovered stand enclosure which after Hillsborough, always terrified me. But I miss those concrete claws that for most of my childhood had had gripped me tight, and when they went, so did the grip the sport had on me.

To build the new Millennium stadium, the Empire pool, another building I miss, also had to be demolished. The Empire pool stood on Wood street - a large red brick building with a distinctive curved roof, housing an international size swimming pool. 

It seems forgotten now that Cardiff hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1958 - and the pool was built for these games. In primary school, we were trooped onto old buses and shipped to the pool for swimming lessons. The place terrified and fascinated me. It seemed the largest building in the world, and the diving boards were the tallest structures I'd ever seen.

It was a cold, old fashioned and harsh structure, and yet I liked it - the walls with diving moving figures - ghosts of all the people that had competed in the games all those years ago.

The third building no longer standing that I would love to gawp at one last time, is the old national ice rink. Another large building, but without the 1950s charm- it was built in the 1980s, and was typically styled of that decade.

With the large distinctive yellowing panels and the epic typography for the sign, it was an oddly designed building, but I do so love that retro style. I didn't even go ice skating that often, but I loved looking out for the distinctive panels. It was replaced with John Lewis - admittedly a much prettier structure.

Cardiff's new library is just a stone's throw away from John Lewis (or the ex-ice rink site) but this replaced the previous "new" library on St David's Link on Frederick street, which had been built in 1988. Concrete and very much of that decade - this was a building I crave and miss massively. 

It had beautiful green typography lettering for the sign, and was another retro 1980s haven. Inside it was all typically pastel and beige. It was like a pair of chinos a male leading protagonist would wear in a 1980s sitcom. I spent many hours here trawling (raiding) the CD library as a student, or the amazing archives rooms right at the top of the building - sifting through old newspapers or microfiche with my dad, researching history about various different things. One time it was Welsh Titanic passengers. This was where I knew I loved history. And nothing beats researching through old newspapers - it beats the Internet every single time. 
The building was demolished in 2006 to make way for the the new St David's II development.

These buildings are long gone, and the city has made many improvements since. I am nostalgic of course, but at the same time, things must change and grow - this is life and it is a good thing. I just think it is important to remember and respect the past. And I wish I could see these buildings one last time. And take photographs. Many, many, photographs.

As an aside, I found this wonderful old video of Cardiff. Enjoy how it used to be. 

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