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No PR firm would have dreamt up the word "brutalism". The term was derived from Le Corbusier's "Breton brut"- French for "raw concrete", the movement's preferred material - rather than anything to do with brutality, with which it has sadly become better associated. In the popular imagination, brutalism is synonymous with harsh, hostile, ugly architecture (or death metal). Two key examples of the movement are currently under threat, Birmingham Central Library and Robin Hood Gardens, and both have sparked furious debate.

Birmingham Central Library, opened in 1974 and designed by John Madin, is apparently the busiest library in Europe, though Prince Charles judged its hulking inverted ziggurat more suited to incinerating books than storing them. The building was slated for demolition as part of a 1bn plan to regenerate the city centre (and build a brand new library) but now English Heritage has recommended it be listed, arguing that it has "defined an era of Birmingham's history". There seem to be plenty in the city who would rather leave that era undefined, but others have defended it as a successful, high-quality design, including my colleague Jonathan Glancey.

It's a similar story with Robin Hood Gardens, in Poplar, East London. One of the original "streets in the sky" housing developments, completed in 1972, this relentless mid-rise estate displayed the worst of public housing design: crime, grime, and societal and material decay. But it was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, arguably Britain's most celebrated modernist architects. When discussions over its future arose, the architectural magazine Building Design launched a campaign to save it led by heavyweights such as Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid. As Simon Jenkins pointed out, nobody who actually lives there has joined this campaign. Why not please everybody and convert it into a National Museum of Bad Architecture?

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