Brummagem: Lost City Found

Work placement student Isabella Shannon from Swanshurst School takes a look at Brummagem and Birmingham’s modernist heritage.

Brummagen edit size

Birmingham is known to be an industrial, well-built city. With the fast decline of modernist architecture, Birmingham’s landscape is always changing. Brummagem: Lost City Found provides a personal reflection of Birmingham’s architecture over 20 years. The show, exploring the significance of Birmingham’s distinct and abundant architectural landscape, will take place at Birmingham City University’s Parkside Gallery between September 18 and October 27.

A reflection on modern day styles and architectural trends

Professor Andrew Kulman and Sara Kulman provide an insightful look into the way that Birmingham briskly reinvents and adapts itself to modern day styles and architectural trends. Professor Kulman’s work shows key parts of the inner ring road, such as Masshouse Circus, Holloway Circus and Paradise Circus through illustration.

Well-known structures in Birmingham, such as the New Street Signal Box, the Gravelly Hill Interchange and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, will be presented through Sara Kulman’s engineering of paper outcomes. The exhibition encourages the city’s visitors and West Midlands citizens to question how Birmingham has evolved with the abatement of modernism.

Matching current trends through reinvention or demolition

Throughout the 1960s and 70s the architecture in Birmingham changed with the arrival of modernism and the pioneering architect John Madin. He introduced, what many considered as the “ugly” style of buildings to the city. Madin designed the old central library, which was described by Prince Charles as “looking more like a place for burning books, than keeping them“. In more recent years, there have been campaigns by champions of modernism to get the building recognised as an important component that defines the city, however this was to no avail and the library has since been demolished. This is representative of a pattern whereby modernist buildings are being reinvented or demolished to match the current architectural trends of big cities around the nation and the world.

Should we be protecting our modernist heritage? We look at Birmingham’s modernist buildings past and present:

Birmingham Conservatoire/ Adrian Bolt Hall

AdriAN Bolt Hall edit

Birmingham Conservatoire was part of the complex in Paradise Circus. It contains the Adrian Bolt Hall, which has an auditorium seating 525 people.

New Street signal box (existing)

News Street Signal Box edit

This building housed all rail operations for the station. The corrugated concrete is not everyone’s favourite design, but was home of one of the city’s most vital infrastructure systems, operating the busiest rail interchange in the UK.

Pebble Mill Studios

Pebble Mill Studios edit

Pebble Mill opened in 1971, and was eventually closed when the BBC moved to the city centre.

Post and Mail building

Post and Mail Building edit

The building was designed by John Madin in 1960, and had newspaper production and printing facilities.

The Central Library

The Central Library edit

The library was originally going to be finished off with marble, but the funds fell through and it had to be finish it with concrete. The architect John Madin was commissioned to design it.

The Chamber of Commerce (existing)

The Chamber of Commerce Building edit

The Chamber of Commerce was the first tall office built in Birmingham. John Madin was comissioned to design it.

The Old Natwest Building (Existing)

The Old Natwest Building edit

103 Colmore Row was designed by John Madin. The building has been vacant since 2003 and will be demolished soon.

The original Bullring

The original Bullring edit

The Bullring was completed in 1964, it was a striking modernist building, with a concrete façade and complex pedestrian access routes. The Bullring, along with other buildings, gave Birmingham the image of a “grey concrete jungle”.

The Rotunda (existing)

The Rotunda edit

The Rotunda was supposed to have a cinema and restaurant but the plans didn’t go through. It was opened in 1965. It is now occupied with a series of apartments.


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