When I took my first tentative steps into Leeds city centre back in the late 90s I can still recall the massive impression West Riding House left on me.
It was not, by any measure, a thing of beauty, but there was no denying the building’s audacity.
It may be almost universally loathed across the city, but you have to admire the brassneck of the architects/planners/councillors that slapped this giant concrete statement where they did: smack bang in the middle of a cluster of Georgian and Victorian monoliths.
From its opening in 1973 it dominated the skyline and, in a move seen as sacrosanct, it even rose above the revered Leeds Town Hall (though heritage fans conveniently forgot that Cuthbert Brodrick’s pride and joy was viewed as being similarly vast and vulgar when it was first built in the mid 19th Century).
What really stuck in the traditionalists’ craw, however, were those giant, unapologetically 70s neon letters on the top which ensured that it became a landmark for the next four decades.
The fact that it was called West Riding House I always found delightful too, because not only was it a local reference it was also a little bit old school (and more than a little belligerent) since, just a year after it opened, the government disbanded the West Riding and remoulded much of the area as West Yorkshire.
So it was sad to see those letters permanently come down this week to be replaced with a new title: Pinnacle.
No, I’m not sure about the name either.
It’s all part and parcel of a huge revamp of the building as it approaches its 40th birthday. The inside has been drastically refurbished, while the outside looks set to be lit up by LEDs which will see the facades change colour depending on whether its St Patrick’s Day or Valentines Day or whatever. At least, that’s the plan.
But then the plan wasn’t to let us know that it was definitely being called Pinnacle (although the name change was being talked about last year, planning permission for the change was only given two months ago) the idea was to keep the big reveal under wraps until the start of February.
But from Tuesday, there it was for all to see, the letters P.I.N.N.A.C.L.E. clearly on view from across the whole city centre. Bit of a PR disaster that one.
Also unfortunate is that name: Pinnacle. I don’t really get it. It’s a curious choice since it infers something long, thin and/or pointy, like a spire or a mountain top. And although this building is unquestionably one of the highest in Leeds (it was actually THE highest up until 2005 when Bridgewater Place came along and stole the title) its design is anything but long or thin or pointy. Once again, it’s been branded as something it isn’t.
No matter, at least the owners aren’t merely trying to flatten the place – which would be a pity – and they’re actually trying to improve it as best they can. Meanwhile, some observers will inevitably claim you can’t polish a concrete carbuncle, which I think is unfair.
Despite its inappropriate new branding I don’t think this amounts to anything but good news. Not the beginning of the end for another example of short-lived modern architecture, let’s just call it a mid-life identity crisis.