Birmingham- The take-over of the modern city

It is impossible to walk around a city without noticing the architecture and how interlinked the city is with other elements of itself. First impressions of Birmingham via Grand Central station you are met with a simplistic interior with a cutting-edge skylight with a swooping balcony overlooking the concourse, this is clearly the welcoming you would expect in Britain’s second capital. The architecture of Grand Central is very modern and inviting yet somewhat clinical with the odd strobe lighting of colour from lights in the ceiling to an otherwise white atrium with stainless silver finishes.

Upon exiting Grand central you are reminded of the futuristic redevelopment of Birmingham as you approach the Selfridges buildings The silver circular domes attached to the exterior of Selfridges belong more to a spaceship than the side of a department store and one must question whether they are trying too hard to prove Birmingham is a contemporary city of the future. Built in 2003 the Bullring attracts 42 millions visitors to this retail hub with high-end designers and superstores all battling for the attention of the shopper. Although the stores are impressive the exterior of the retail complex is unmissable yet unimpressive in the current era of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Shard in London. These domes look somewhat unfitting to their natural environment and the heritage Birmingham has with manufacturing and the car industry. No longer is the city representing the industry it once had but instead represents the future and there is none more obvious than the space domes on the iconic heart of the Bullring. The structure of the Bullring is iconic, yet the magnitude somewhat is unappealing up close and remarkably less impressive than from afar. The 1873 gothic Victorian architecture of St Martin’s Church is perfectly framed between the two shopping centres. The darkness of the dramatic arches and lancet windows among the 4 turrets with cross finials on top is demands far more grandeur than the imposing Bullring, yet is overshadowed by the recent city developments. 

Even a British corporation like Royal Mail is not safe from a rebrand with the selling of the old mail sorting office at the end of Brindley place in 1997. Since then it has had a facelift similar to that of Grand central with white and minimalist clearly ever present in the design plans of the awards winning ‘Associated architects’ company’ who oversaw planning and development up to its opening in 2000. The exterior of the mailbox and overlooking the canals which again tourists enjoy on a summer day the elite and cosmopolitan feel of the city continues with cocktail bars and high-end restaurants which of course have jutting outdoor terraces and bars. The mailbox is certainly a postcard image for that the tourist company’s portrayal for Birmingham but you can help but look at just behind the mailbox whereby dilapidated buildings from the decades previous fall in to ruin. The architecture of those building behind are by far less impressive with high rise worst for wear tower blocs symbolise an era decades before Birmingham’s facelift. 

One area of the city easily accessible yet not enjoyed by all is the “gay village” of Birmingham which is located about a ten-minute walk from the mailbox. As you walk down Smallbrooks Queensway and into the older areas of Birmingham you come across lesser well known clubs which my parents would remember from her time out on the town decades before. Snobs on the corner of Hurst Street has become an institutional right of passage for all 18-year olds in Birmingham. This grand building that once stood is now in some disrepair and painted a matte black in some effort of regaining its image as a destination for party goers however this makes it more evident that snobs is trying to perform to its nearby neigh boughs of Grand Central and the Bullring. Unfortunately, this attempt fails but as a club it is still functional.

Now in my opinion the best part of Birmingham, the gay village which has not regenerated like much of Birmingham but instead has maintained the façade that has been associated with it for five decades since homosexual relations were delegalized. The vibrant clubs look the total opposite from the exterior which mainly black and dark and sheltered between industrial units which surround the village. Whilst the exteriors of gay village clubs and bars better represent Birmingham past historical lack of investment it is evident the LGBTQ community are paving the way forward with their own artistic design and graffiti in support of their identity and its linkage with the city. Gay village feels far more like the traditional Birmingham one’s parents remember whereby brickwork is still exposed and does not try to perform to a futuristic space like the CBD. Gay villages architecture is far more fitting with the city than the masses of silver and mental which now cascade down the sides of buildings. The splashes of colour of the rainbow flag is a welcome sight from the white and minimalist ideas of the Bullring.  The most infamous clubs of all being Nightingales on Hurst Street at the centre of gay village which not only stands out for its graffiti but also its feeling of inclusivity whether straight, bi, homosexual or otherwise. Much of the graffiti and wall art slogans is not fit for this blog but the most famous display in Nightingales is “Homophobia is gay” is displayed pride and centre in the club. Yes the architecture of the Bullring and New street can be regarded as impressive especially when it first opened but they are also designed without the city in mind and feels very alien and unfitting in comparison to the backdrop of St Martin’s Church or Gay village.

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