Part 3: Birmingham today
By the 1980’s the city had acquired a reputation as a concrete jungle, strangled by the ring roads with a skyline of poorly constructed high rise. The previous decade had been unkind to the city and unemployment was high after the industrial economy collapsed. The catalyst for regeneration was the construction of Brindley Place in the 1990s, followed ten years later by the redevelopment of the Bull Ring shopping centre. The turn of the last century saw a new wave of landmark buildings being constructed starting with the Selfridges Building (2003), followed by the Cube (2010) and more recently the Library of Birmingham (2013). A new architectural style emerged of bold, confident and slightly ‘blingtastic’ buildings of the marmite variety – you either love or hate them! However there is no denying they have made the city skyline a lot more interesting!
The Birmingham of today is definitely a city of contrast and when I walk throughout the city centre it is like a physical timeline of architectural styles, each representing different eras in history. Architecture is a product of its time that can reflect the political, industrial, technological and social status of a particular age. Just by looking at a building you can pick up clues of what life might have been like at the time it was built and what influenced its appearance, scale and form. With a rich urban, social, industrial history I think architecturally Birmingham has plenty to offer.
I am noticing a change in attitude towards the city. The rest of the country and the media are starting to take notice. Who would have thought that the New York Times would be recommending Brum as a top city destination or that one of its buildings would be nominated for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture? It feels like the tide is changing and finally the negativity which has hung over the city is beginning to lift.
Future redevelopments include the continued regeneration of Eastside consisting of new BCU campus & HS2 railway terminus, Snow Hill Metro extension, demolition of John Madins library and redevelopment of Paradise Circus. All this regeneration is great for the city; however we have to be careful not to lose the architectural diversity which makes Brum so unique. We need to preserve the places and buildings which the people of the city hold dear to their hearts and not become another generic cityscape which could be any city, in any country. I want Birmingham to retain its distinct character…good and bad… warts and all!
Photography by Katie Hughes