Birmingham has always been an interesting place architecturally. Back in the 1950s and 60s Herbert Manzoni’s masterplan pushed forward the inner ring road and redevelopment of the city core which paved the way for the Bull Ring the current New Street Station and Birmingham Central Library. He famously did not believe in the preservation of old buildings and as such many were lost. Regardless of whether their replacements had similar architectural merit or not, there is an argument that this development significantly contributed to the city’s economic development at the time, and also that his brave methods have continued to this day within the City Council.
Birmingham is not afraid to embrace bold architecture, and is brilliant at delivering the big statement buildings. The new Bullring and the Selfridges Building, the new New Street Gateway, the new Library of Birmingham, The Cube, all are indicative of a city that is not afraid to push boundaries. And whilst this is to be celebrated, again in the name of growth and development, it should not be to the detriment of the ‘sense of place’. A city is as much about the streets and places in between these landmarks as it is about the special buildings themselves. Looking at ways to preserve and enhance the fabric of the city, to stitch together the architecture and spaces, is crucial in pushing Birmingham forward and making it a place where people want to work, live and visit. We believe this will be just as important to the economic growth of the city in the future as the buildings themselves. So just like a fine piece of tailoring, let’s invest in the quality of the stitching and not just in the flashy lining.
With thanks to Greg Willis, Partner at Make Architects who has worked closely with Neil Edginton since 2005 on The Cube development. Make is a studio of architects and designers committed to designing buildings, spaces and places which are as striking and innovative as they are socially, economically and environmentally responsible. Founded by Ken Shuttleworth in January 2004, the practice has already established itself as one of the UK’s foremost architectural firms. Make delivered the Retail Birmingham Design Strategy, one of the component parts of Phase 2 of the Big City Plan, as a working guide as to how the streets and spaces within the Retail Birmingham Business Improvement District can be enhanced to attract new retailers, shoppers and businesses as well as improve wayfinding and linkages across the city.