Architectural assault

Where was the first £1 million deal struck in the world? Threadneedle Street in London… think again. Wall Street in New York… nickels and dimes. It was right here in Cardiff, the Coal Exchange to be exact…

Interior [1]

From the fledgling years of the 20th century, when ‘coal was king’ and the Port of Cardiff dominated world trade, the floor of the Coal Exchange buzzed with the chaotic sounds of commerce. Even beyond the age of heavy industry in South Wales this iconic location was set to become the home of Welsh Government at the end of the 1970’s.

Interior [2]

Despite functioning as a home to a few small offices and a brief life as a concert venue, years of neglect and indifference took their toll:

Coal Exchange [1]

Coal Exchange [6]

References to the need to find a new purpose for an icon are difficult to accept as being anything more than a cynical cover for patient neglect to the point where the building could possibly be demolished…

Coal Exchange [2]

It appears that the City Planning Department lacked any vision for the jewel on their doorstep. A 15 storey residential block seemed to be the height of corporate ambition! We don’t need to look far around our city to see that money lies in throwing up blandly mediocre residential and office developments, whilst simultaneously allowing historic buildings oozing character to fall into disrepair. This serves to remind me of the good decision I made to abandon a career in Town Planning 33 years ago while it was still in its infancy!

Coal Exchange board sign

With huge acknowledgements to Nick Broomfield and BBC4 for the striking programme ‘Going, Going, Gone…’ (for the source of internal photographs used here), we know that parts of the building are far from dangerous, but those that are can be restored and put to good use…

Exterior Decay

Interior decay

In fact, large parts of the building appear in excellent condition, just calling out to be seen and used again…

Interior [3]

Interior [8]

With details to be loved as much now as they undoubtedly were by their creators…

Interior [5]

Interior [4]

Interior [7]

Civic pride from public authorities means nothing in these days of corporate greed and power. We have seceded architectural virtue and the values of beauty and historic appreciation, bowing to the whims of the money-tocracy, as the privileged few profit on the backs of the many.

Rumour has it that plans are being discussed to restore the Coal Exchange building on the basis of housing a boutique hotel. This would be a welcome development by the many who appreciate the importance of this building, provided some areas are opened for wider public access. Talk is one thing, but this is an icon that is in desperate need of action… NOW!

Until we speak again lets all hope that talking is matched by walking for this beauty. Then there is the issue of halting the local avalanche of historic building neglect that could then transform the city centre and bay areas of Cardiff into a mix of historic and contemporary pride (pigs are flying as I gaze out of my window across the aforementioned areas).

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