The Assembly Rooms – Derby
Architect: Casson, Conder, & Partners with W.I.N.G Doig
The new assembly rooms stand on the site of the original Assembly Rooms, which were destroyed by a fire in 1963. The car park of the replacement was itself damaged in a major fire in March 2014 and the venue has remained closed ever since. The ultimate fate of the building remains unclear. There is talk of a replacement, but replacements don’t come cheap. They’ll probably just leave it mothballed for a decade or two.
The building itself consists of a multi-story car park (where the fire was, which remains open), a reception area and two large halls (which are closed. Smoke damage apparently). The façade of the building facing the market place has some interesting features. My favourite is the square tourist information centre towards the east end of the building (photo #7), which juts out pleasingly into the marketplace giving a bit of variety . Along the length of the rest of the façade a protruding first floor overhangs a row of commercial units on the ground floor. The glazed protrusion has irregularly spaced mullions, which break it up quite nicely. This interesting feature, however, just seems stuck onto the hulking brick box that forms the body of this part of the structure. It reminds me of the way that Mr Potato Head’s features are stuck onto a bland potato head with little or no integration.
There’s a small courtyard in the join between the halls and the car park, but this is dominated by the car park entrance and the cars entering. It could have been nicer. The car park is standard fare, concrete framed with brick half walls.
It’s a difficult building to love. With it being located in my home town and with my passion for concrete I’ve probably tried harder than most. But it would be a shame to demolish it. Considering the standard of Derby’s recent architecture I dread to think what a replacement would look like. The Westfield Centre (now the Intu centre) really is an abomination. The bus station is basically just a big aluminium shed, with some kind of glass shard stuck on one corner to try to distract from that fact.
For all its faults, I think the best option would be to spend some cash on giving it an overhaul inside and out. Obviously I don’t mean the kind of overhaul that involves cladding it in plastic or something awful like that, but something that respects the original vision and the original materials.