Birmingham, the UK’s largest and most populous city outside London, was previously known as a centre of industry – ‘the city of a thousand trades – but not for its beauty. Since the former fell away, it has regularly topped lists for the ugliest city in the UK.
The Brutalist architecture of the Bull Ring shopping Centre, the New Street Station and the former Birmingham Central Library have long faced stinging criticism. Prince Charles, with the kind of tact usually attributed to his father, is reported to have said of the latter that, “it looks more like a place for burning books than keeping them”.
Five years into a 20-year transformation plan of the city centre, which measures 30,000sq m, the government is gradually making inroads into what it claimed would be “the most ambitious and far-reaching citywide development project ever undertaken in the UK”.
Ken Shuttleworth’s Make Architects’ design for the £100m Cube building, a 42,000sq m mixed-use building, actually predates the Big City Plan, both completing in 2010 – perhaps a catalyst for change. Since then, the new Library of Birmingham by Dutch practice Mecanoo has became a landmark for the city’s redevelopment. The £93m building is the largest public library in Europe and won the RIBA National Award in 2013. Despite its success, the demolition of its predecessor – seen as an important example of Brutalist architecture – pitted for 2015, has been met with resistance.
The £500m redevelopment of Paradise Circus in the city centre broke ground earlier in the year. Known simply as Paradise, it will include two Grade-A office buildings by Eric Parry Architects and Glenn Howells Architects respectively. Both are set for completion in 2018.
On a micro level, the city is becoming the leading start-up hub outside London in the UK. A reported 19,000 small businesses have been launched in Birmingham in the last year. No doubt the cheaper rents and staffing costs and generous government funding from the City Council have been a lure.
The £600m New Street New Start project, designed by Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo’s former practice Foreign Office Architects, aims to reinvent the aforementioned 1960s New Street Station. The eye-catching design with its silver undulating roof has split opinion and is pencilled for completion this year.
More significant perhaps is the redevelopment around Curzon Street, the 1,410,000sq m area planned for the £43bn High Speed 2 (HS2) terminus – the train line that will connect the capital to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London. Construction is set to begin in 2017. The project includes 366,000sq m of offices, 98,000sq m of shops, 57,000sq m of hotels, 79,000sq m of community and leisure-related uses and 2,000 new homes.
The main station is a glass structure by Wilkinson Eyre. It is hoped that the development will bring about urban regeneration on the scale of Canary Wharf, and the London 2012 Olympic Park in east London.
Liz Peace, panellist on the UKCW address and chair of the Curzon Urban Regeneration Company, said: “I have been able to see the huge amount of activity happening in the city to capture every opportunity that HS2 will provide.
“The scheme will be integral to Birmingham’s growing appeal to businesses, developers and investors across the globe. The company will initially focus on attracting new investment into the Curzon area to stimulate its regeneration.”