There are a few interesting articles, thoughts and comments floating around at present regarding Birmingham’s skyline.
As the fabulous Rotunda is reinvented for the 21st century thanks to the work of Urban Splash, a new film has been released celebrating one of Birmingham’s most recognisable buildings.
I’ve always loved looking at the Rotunda. My first proper view of it was on a Bebb’s coach back in the 1980s when we passed through the centre of Birmingham heading northwards to a faded seaside town.
The coach station wasn’t very promising, but then emerging into the sunlight and heading towards the Bull Ring I caught sight of the Rotunda for the first time and thought it looked far more exciting than the holiday destination I was heading towards with my grandparents.
The work of recent years to transform the Rotunda into apartments has brought a similar feeling of excitement.
Although I’m seriously concerned about the long-term impact of City Living on places like Birmingham, there is no denying Urban Splash has done justice to the Rotunda in its make-over of the landmark.
One of the criticisms from the judging panel of Birmingham’s ill-fated bid to become the 2008 European Capital of Culture – I still believe Liverpool deserves this poisoned chalice – was the lack of iconic landmarks in the city.
I always found this quite an ignorant viewpoint given the regeneration work that has been taking place for 20 years and the plans that were already afoot.
Such a statement did not seem to take into account the work on the Bullring (as it now has to be called, apparently), in particular the Selfridge’s building.
The Selfridge’s building will stand the test of time, as will other developments such as the Mailbox complex and Beetham Tower.
Plus, excitingly, there are more on the way. There’s an informative piece in The Birmingham Post by Paul Dale on how the city council’s decade-old policy to learn to love skyscrapers is now firmly back on track.
The plan is to go upwards and it is a plan I think will help kick-start the next stage of Birmingham’s regeneration, which has stalled somewhat in recent years.
Birmingham’s skyline is already impressive, particularly coming in along some of the northern routes into the city centre. But the tall buildings being proposed would considerably enhance both the skyline and Birmingham’s pretensions to be regarded as an international city.
As ever there is a need for some considered balance in such a policy. Building up is all well and good, but creating the right kind of development is also essential.
Yes, the city could do with a few more tall landmarks. But, equally, it isn’t just the city centre that requires regeneration and the much-trumpeted Big City Plan needs to pick up the pace again.
There is still a nagging concern that the plan is more style than substance and lacks the sense of purpose of Birmingham’s previous attempts to revitalise the city.
Birmingham has set impressive benchmarks in urban regeneration in the last 20 years or so and the potential is there to do exactly the same in the next 10-20 years.
It has also made mistakes, but at least it has tried. It is the way you learn from those mistakes that is so important.
The Rotunda was never a mistake. The sense of excitement it gave me peering out of that National Express coach window 20-odd years ago is still there.
[Edit: The fact that the new-look Birmingham Town Hall has secured a major award shows that balanced regeneration doesn’t just mean scraping the skies. A fantastic scheme and a worthy accolade.]