New Development

Paradise Circus Redevelopment…a chance to reconnect the city

The Paradise Circus redevelopment has the potential to change the face of Birmingham and create new and exciting links through the city as well as forming new public spaces.

Paradise Circus & Central Library

Birmingham does appear to be in the architectural press a lot more recently and one development which has huge potential to create headlines is Paradise Circus. There was a really interesting piece in last months Architects Journal about the Paradise Circus redevelopment, which will unfortunately result in the bulldozing of Madin’s Central Library but provide the opportunity to restore connectivity between two major parts of the city. The piece is about a design ‘charrette’ involving different design teams from various architectural practices and their ideas for the redevelopment. Each team uses the current masterplan by Argent as a basis for their designs, in some proposals reworking it and in others completely tearing it up and starting from scratch. Several key drawings are required and a panel of critics offer their views.

The current masterplan involves the demolition of Central Library and Paradise Forum, the outdated Copthorne Hotel, The Birmingham Conservatoire and various other perimeter buildings. No great losses apart from of course my old favourite the zigguart ;-( 

The masterplan is concerned with reconnecting the Centenary Square and Chamberlain/Victoria Square public spaces which at present are disconnected by the presence of the concrete inverted ziggurat. To pass from one space to another you have to trudge through Paradise Forum which is anything but a paradise (more like a pedestrian nightmare and a bottle neck of human traffic!)  John Madin’s original proposals for the library consisted of a public square beneath the main central atrium of the zigguart which was open to the sky and accessible on all four sides. Apparently there were issues after it’s construction with wind flow and flooding hence a glass roof was added and later the addition of shops to close off the space- Paradise Forum. It’s a shame Madins open atrium and public square didn’t last the test of time as I can imagine it could be quite a spectacular space with plants hanging down from the internal floors. Similar to the atrium of the Ford Foundation Building in New York (Kevin Roche/John Dinkeloo 1968).

The Ford Foundation Building NYC-Atrium garden

The Ford Foundation Building NYC-Atrium garden

Most of the ideas which came out of the design ‘charette’ were centred around creating a additional public space to link Centenary and Chamberlain Square and widening the footbridge across as much as possible. This will result in a improved pedestrian link and views straight through from either side of Paradise Circus Queensway. There is no doubt that something needs to be done to improve the pedestrian flow through this part of town as a recent visit to the Christmas German Market demonstrated when the exit to Chamberlain Square was so congested everyone came to a stand still!

Most of the proposals explored the introduction of a number of smaller public spaces and internal courtyards connected to the main thoroughfare/square with pedestrian links across the site from north to south especially establishing a connection with the jewellery quarter. There was also a emphasis on preserving the historical buildings on the site such as the Town Hall  and the Hall of Memory and creating new access routes around them.

In terms of aesthetics several design teams took inspiration from the classical form of the Town Hall and Council House with classical elements such as columns and colonnades proposed throughout the  landscape to create interesting spaces and routes through the site.

All of these ideas are very valid but I feel they could still be achieved by retaining the existing library in some form. Only one design team referred to the Central Library and a new use for it, though this was a temporary use. The team from Assemble had a idea of temporarily renting out the old library for temp office/workshop space before it’s demolition which I liked. I suppose no one explored the idea of retention as it appears the old library’s fate is well and truly sealed. 

I do think the decision to demolition Central Library is a mistake. Even though I must admit the interior space was pretty grim and depressing I think the main form and atrium have huge potential. I’d love to see the zigguart stripped so it was nothing but a concrete shell, a monument to the city. I loved the recent mural artwork which brightened up the weathered concrete by Artist Lucy McLauchlan. I can imagine something like this on a larger scale, the whole of the zigguart covered in graffiti and artwork by artists from all over the world. I think it could look really striking but I’m pretty sure most people would have a heart attack and think it was hideous eyesore. It seems like it is in the wrong place at the wrong time and even though I would like to see it retained I can totally understand the reasoning behind it’s looming demolition as it stands in the way of connecting two major parts of the city. 

Painting of birds by Lucy McLauchlan on Birmingham Central Library.  Picture by Andy Mabbett (http://pigsonthewing.org.uk/), Source Wikipedia

Painting of birds by Lucy McLauchlan on Birmingham Central Library. Picture by Andy Mabbett (http://pigsonthewing.org.uk/), Source Wikipedia

I do have this feeling (and many people will disagree) that the library will be missed in the future and it’s true architectural value realised when it is far too late. Many Victorian buildings were demolished during the 1950-60s due to them being deemed at the time to be old fashioned and out dated. Now many of these buildings are sorely missed, ironically one of them being the old Victorian Library which was eventually replaced by the John Madin one…how history repeats itself eh! Either way the redevelopment of Paradise Circus is a exciting proposal which I think could transform this part of the city…I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

paradise circus

Interesting Links:

More details of the current proposals are here: http://www.paradisecircus.co.uk

AJs article online: http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/birmingham-charrette/8655000.article

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