Birmingham: A Changing City

Birmingham’s skyline has changed a lot over the last decade, but we have always lived in an ever changing city.  It was through researching some of the changing areas of the city centre, that we came across some great recent collections of pictures that help build up a tale of how Birmingham has changed in the last five centuries.

It’s worth visiting Birmingham Museum & Art gallery, and the Birmingham: its people, its history collection to get a sense of the 500 years of change. The following three landscapes are from 1604, 1706, and 1829.

Sources: Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery - Flickr

The previous picture show how the city had expanded, but we can start to see some familiar features including St. Phillips church.

Source: Library of Birmingham – Twitter 

This picture from 1886 shows the familiar Civic features of Birmingham, Council House, Townhall, Chamberlain Square and what was the newly built Birmingham School of Art (1885).

Source: Library of Birmingham – Benjamin Stone Collection 

Towards Colmore Row this picture from 1910 shows a familiar streetscape, looking out from St. Phillips churchyard and the area still looks the same today.

Source: John Ball

Though further along towards Snow Hill Station we can see a very different site, the station closed in 1969 and was demolished in 1977.  Although on Livery St there are still some signs of the previous station, including original entrances.

Source: Britain From Above

In 1921 we can see the Civic buildings seen before, but also the Birmingham Libary to the left of the Town Hall, and the Mason Science College behind it.  Both can be seen in the picture below.

Source: John Ball

This timelapse made up of images captured by Derek Fairbrother shows the transition between the old and new within our city.

Birmingham timelapse from 7inch cinema on Vimeo.

Source: Geoff Thompson Archive

The pictures from this archive show the grandness of the old library interior, and the aerial view shows the brutalist Birmingham Central Library which replaced it. The building in red was the old library prior to its demolition to clear the area for the rest of the Paradise Circus development.

Sources: Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery - Flickr

Whilst the library was knocked down, we still have the Hall of Memory (the round dome) which is captured above in 1929 when the land around it was not as built upon as it is now.

Source: John Ball

Around 1965-1969 the Birmingham & Midland Institute building was demolished, it stood on Paradise St and was also removed to make way for the new library and Paradise Circus complex.  In the background we can still see the top of hall of memory, and also Baskerville House.

Source: RIBA

The new buildings of the time were clad in concrete, and shone brightly compared to their surroundings.  Above is the REP Theatre which was built in 1971, to the left stands industrial buildings which get cleared to make way for the ICC.  Below is the view from the canal network before the ICC and Brindley Place development happened.

Sources: Building of Convention Centre by Guilbert53 

Above we can see that whilst most of the land was cleared, the two buildings on the left remain in the development (Ikon Gallery, and Flares) As well as the images above, it’s well worth taking a look at the following links which provide an insight into what Birmingham used to be like.

For those familiar with the city centre, the photo walk format from John Ball is a good guide to show you around the city.  The work of the Norton family to archive the pictures in their collection also provides a wider coverage which includes the Birmingham suburbs.

Birmingham has changed a lot, and whilst we still have areas which are as they were back in the 1870s, we also have the continual redevelopment in the city centre. It will be hard to know whether our changing city is keeping and preserving the right buildings. In 2015 we start to see the Paradise Circus redevelopment which sees us lose the ‘new’ Library building that replaced the ‘old’ one that was shown above.

It’s hard to imagine what the city will look like by 2050, but it is fair to say that it will look quite different to now.

Paradise Circus Redevelopment


Outline planning application (all matters reserved save for access) for demolition of all buildings on the site (save for the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial) and commercial led mixed use redevelopment of up to 170,012 square metres gross internal floorspace, comprising offices (Use Class B1a), retail and leisure units (Use Classes A1/A2/A3/A4/A5/D1/D2), concert hall (D2), energy centre (Sui Generis), together with a hotel of up to 250 bedrooms (Use Class C1), car parking, highways works (to include the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory), public realm improvements and associated works including alterations to public rights of way.

The Paradise Circus redevelopment is a contentious one, mainly due to the presence of the Birmingham Central Library which was designed by John Madin and is set to be demolished if the plans get approved.  Though the building has been recommended for local listing by English Heritage, it has never achieved that status and the council have a Certificate of Immunity order on the building, preventing it from being listed.

The council have established an exclusivity agreement with Argent, who were behind the creation of Brindleyplace, with a view to sign a joint venture relationship for the redevelopment of the site once planning permission has been granted.
Whilst we await the final decision regarding the outline, it was interesting to see how the current plans look from a historical perspective.  As well as seeing how the proposal brings the area back to the public, both from an ease of access routes (especially down Congreve Passage to Summer Row) and also improvements to the public realm with two new squares, and the improvement to Chamberlain Square.

Town Hall and Council House - March 1921 (Britain From Above)

Whilst the future of the Central Library is an evocative topic, it cannot be ignored that the site plan does not facilitate access through it, or around it.  Areas such as Fletchers Walk, Paradise Place towards Summer Row, and Congreve passage are not the most accessible. Looking at the plans it shows that consideration has been given to the pedestrian flow, and there are a lot more ways to navigate across the site.
One of the main changes to the road layout is the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory (i.e the bit that runs under the Library).  There are also quite a lot of roads that would need to be reconfigured because of this.
Recently on 11 October 2012 the council Planning Committee met, and an item on the agenda was to discuss issues related to the planning application [PDF], this revealed some potential S106 planing obligations including:
  • Transport contribution – to include works to facilitate the next phases of Metro and contributions to public transport including Interconnect (new bus shelters and totem signage)
  • Public realm improvements – in particular to Chamberlain Square, Town Hall surroundings and Centenary Square – approximately £2.65m
  • Contributions to Wayfinding signage both into and around the site – £180,000
  • Easy Row subway improvements linking through to Arena Central – approximately £150,000.