Buildings of Birmingham. Breaking down the Concrete.

Firstly welcome to my new-look blog site. I decided it was time for a fresh image.

Last week I was invited to speak at an FBE/ FFT Breakfast event in Birmingham. My talk was on ‘The Art of Business Development’; I was asked to do it following a blog I posted back in February (click here to see it). I enjoyed the event last week and had some great feedback after it, which I really wasn’t expecting. Whilst there, I was asked if I had blogged about Birmingham. It occurred to me that the only Birmingham based blog I have done to date was on the new Library (click here to see it). So here are my thoughts on the modern Buildings of Birmingham…

I have to confess I have always struggled to like Birmingham. I can’t really put my finger on what it is, but the City doesn’t appeal to me as much as others (London, Nottingham, Manchester etc). Birmingham was heavily bombed in the second world war, meaning a lot of new development occurred in the 50’ and 60’s; a period defined by concrete structures, with roads dominating and forming very hard divides/ edges.

A few years ago I went to a drinks party at Marco Pierre White’s at the top of the Cube. The panoramic views of the city from the top are quite good. However, what this experience really demonstrated was how fragmented the city is; nice pockets, closely bounded by really run-down parts. This is a general theme of Birmingham in my view and perhaps this is why I don’t like it as much. The urban grain of the city doesn’t seem to flow.

On a more positive note, Birmingham does seem to have created a bit of a niche for creating bold, contemporary buildings, these help define its character. Most of these buildings challenge the norm of modern architecture. The story starts in the new millennium and here’s six contemporary buildings which are starting to change Birmingham’s concrete image.

In 2000, The Mailbox was opened; the site was formerly occupied by the Royal Mail Birmingham sorting office. The open-air luxury brand shopping mall has hotels and offices above, as well as the BBC Midlands HQ; a genuine mixed-use development. However whenever I’ve been over the years, the red-fronted mall lacks life and feels more like a ‘route through’, than a ‘destination’.

Birmingham Mailbox

2003 saw the Bullring redevelopment, which included the new £60m Selfridges building; a morphic like, largely windowless building, decorated with domed silver discs. It was certainly bold in its time, and seems to have aged reasonably well. Also the Grade II listed Rotunda building was reinvented by Urban Splash, converting it from offices to Residential.

Selfridges Bullring

In the same year No. 10 Holloway Circus became the City’s latest (and tallest) building. Designed and built by the same teams as Manchester’s Beetham tower, it takes on a similar aesthetic of predominately glass, with vertical ‘tiger stripes’. However this building is very one-sided and seems to get a little lost in the skyline; it certainly doesn’t provide a focal point like Manchester’s version.

No 10 Holloway Circus

The Cube was built more recently, opening in 2010. The 25-storey building is a substantial block, albeit a portion of it is hollow in the centre. The metallic ‘Tetris’ looking cladding doesn’t appeal to me, but again it’s certainly a noticeable building.

The Cube Birmingham

The Library building, by contrast to the others in my view, is a huge success. A truly great example of contemporary architecture; both in its look and use. I think we will see more of these multi-layer buildings emerge in the future.


The latest building(s) to emerge in the City is the New Street Station redevelopment (or Gateway Plus), incorporating the old Pallasades Shopping centre, with a new-build John Lewis department store as well. It seems to take cues from the other Birmingham buildings I’ve mentioned here, with curves, glass and stainless steel cladding forming the look. It’s still in construction, but I’m not convinced yet from what I’ve seen to date.

Birmingham New Street Station

Manchester remains my ‘second City’ of the UK and a real favourite in terms of architecture and a city. It has also reinvented itself incredibly well from its heavy industrial revolution period.

I do applaud Birmingham for recognising the importance of architecture in defining the City. Perhaps the post-war legacy issues of Birmingham are so substantial that it will take many years to re-connect the urban fabric into a cohesive experience. Continuing to break down the depressing 50’s and 60’s concrete will redefine Birmingham’s image.

High quality individual buildings are really important for Cities, but so too are the bits between them.


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