We are now well into the new year and hopefully 2016 will be another exciting year for Birmingham with plenty of new developments for the city centre in the pipeline.
Here is a quick look back at the major architectural and city centre developments which took place over the past 12 months…the good and the bad.
Grand Central Shopping Centre
The summer saw the opening of the brand spanking new Grand Central Shopping Centre. What was once the outdated and depressing Pallasades Shopping Centre has been transformed into a large and airy atrium with the station foyer on the ground floor and a gallery of shops and eateries on the upper level. The first time I went up the escalators into the new foyer was slightly disorienting…I couldn’t quite work out where I was or how they had managed to fit so much space within the confines of the existing station complex…I was pleasantly surprised! There is a new food quarter with a variety of restaurants, cafés and smaller eateries and finally a John Lewis in the city centre yaye! It certainly makes a good first impression for any visitors in comparison to its predecessor but there is still some room for improvement. Even though I like the main atrium, the mirrored cladding on the outside is pretty ghastly. It’s just not my cup of tea and looks like a rip of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. The redevelopment of New Street is also a tale of two halves….Grand Central and New Street Station. Whilst in my opinion Grand Central has been a success, the dark and dingy subterranean station still lurks underneath. It is essentially a brand new shopping centre on top of the old station. At platform level there is still a lot of work to be done (see rant further below) but the whole development is an vast improvement and a step in the right direction.
The Metro City Centre Extension
As a regular user of public transport I was particularly chuffed when the new metro extension opened at the end of last year. I use the Metro on a weekly basis and it is an efficient, clean and reliable mode of transport and a fantastic addition to the city centre. This extension promises to be the start of a wider expansion of the tram network with plans for future lines connecting Digbeth, Broad Street and Eastside.
At present the tram is terminating at Bull Street with the connection to New Street Station nearing completion in the upcoming weeks. This line is proposed to continue to the Town Hall and Centenary Square by 2017. There were also talks of a second line which would serve Walsall and Stourbridge but the status of such plans unfortunately now appear redundant.
It’s funny how some 62 years after the last trams ran in 1953 that we are now returning this mode of transport to the city. The original trams ran from Yardley to Dudley and Edgbaston to the Lickey Hills but their popularity waned due to the rise of car ownership and the introduction of buses. Here is a linked posted on the BBC website with some great historical footage of the last day the tram ran in 1953: ‘Memories of Birmingham Trams’
The £50 million redevelopment of the Mailbox was completed towards the end of last year. A new roof has been installed over the previously open walk through, new retail space added and a general revamp of the interior of the upper and lower malls. A new look Harvey Nicholls store and the addition of an Everyman Cinema are some of the new highlights…it looks fab!
The Demolition of Central Library
You can probably guess from my previous blog posts on this subject that I am a massive fan of John Madin’s Brutalist Central Library. Despite a ongoing battle to get the building listed its fate was sealed with 2015 signalling the start of the redevelopment of the Paradise Circus area. Slowly bit by bit the excavations began and demolition of some of the surrounding buildings took place, but it was finally in December that the crawls of the demolition truck started to hack away at the iconic inverted ziggurat structure. At the time of writing this post the building stands partially demolished looking very sorry for itself with large gaping holes exposing the interior. Chucks of concrete litter the ground below and a mangle of wires and steel hang down from the exposed floors. Any chance of the building being saved is now long gone and I can’t help feeling that the opportunity to restore this unique building and preserve a fine example of mid century architecture has been lost and will be regretted in the future. It is also another of John Madin’s buildings which has been erased from the city centre. Considering he is the most famous 20th Century architecture to come out the city it appears that his legacy is well and truly being destroyed! Birmingham has this habit of reinventing itself and starting from scratch and it seems to be on a mission at the moment to obliterate any trace of post-war development from the city which admittedly has contributed to the rather negative perception of the city with it being labelled in the past as a ‘concrete jungle’. However this era does deserve some credit and has given us buildings such as The Rotunda and Alpha Tower which have both thankfully been saved, but it is a shame that the library couldn’t share their fate.
However despite all this I am looking forward to seeing this part of the city being redeveloped. However much I loved the library it did create a barrier between Broad Street and the main city centre and the proposals promise to improve connectivity between these two fragmented parts of the city. I do have reservations tho….the proposals are hardly inspiring-why demolish an iconic building and replace it with something generic? And do we really need more retail & office space? Anyways I’ll reserve judgement until the development is underway…I suppose any investment in the city is a good thing and maybe I should stop being such an architectural snob!
New Street Station- Subterranean Platforms
Despite the success of the Grand Central Shopping Centre there is still a fair bit of work to be done concerning the subterranean part of the station. The platforms are still crowded, and unfinished. The works have overrun and the quality of finish in places is poor. There are also nowhere near enough escalators or stairwells to gain access to the upper levels and during rush hour it is a fight to get off the train and out of the station through the hoards of people crowded on the narrow platforms. I understand the challenges of maintaining a fully functioning station whilst undertaking such building works is no easy feat but the lack of transformation at platform level is disappointing. I suppose there is not much that could be done within the existing constraints of the site but I do worry that the station will be unable to cope with ever increasing passenger numbers in the future.
So what will 2016/17 bring?
Future developments in the pipeline include:
- Demolition of NatWest Tower- another John Madin building to be destroyed! Grrr!
- Further expansion of the Midland Metro Tram Network
- Redevelopment of the Pavillions Shopping Centre into the largest Primark in Europe.
- Arena Centre Development- offices, retail & residential: arena-central.com
- Paradise Circus Redevelopment: paradisebirmingham.co.uk
- Renovation of Louisa Ryland House,Newhall Street: More Info
- New Street Waterstones to be turned into a new Apple Store.
- £2 millon conversion of the new Library of Birmingham to accommodate the Brasshouse Language Centre.
- Redesign of Centenary Square.
- HS2 Terminus at Curzon Street-continued masterplanning
More information about Birmingham’s future developments can be found at: Big City Plan