Building the City of Culture bid

As the UK City of Culture bid takes shape, Chairman of the Birmingham Cultural Partnership Cllr Martin Mullaney wants to hear about your favourite city buildings.

I was recently asked how Birmingham’s heritage will be celebrated in our bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2013. So in my guise as chairman of the Birmingham Cultural Partnership I thought I’d provide a brief update on our plans.

We want the bid to celebrate the city’s architecture and are set for talks with heritage groups to discuss how the city’s historic buildings and overall architectural heritage can be reflected in the final bid to be submitted to the Department for Media, Culture and Sport next month.

In the meantime, I’d love you nominate your favourite buildings, uploading photographs to file-sharing website flickr.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/birminghamarchitecture/

To give you a few ideas I’ve listed my personal top-10 below, explaining why I think these buildings are so special. I’m hoping to upload a few photographs myself over the next few days.

You may not agree with all or indeed any of my choices but I hope you’ll join in the debate and share your thoughts on our wonderful architectural heritage.

Highbury Hall, Moseley
Architects Martin and Chamberlain.
Built in 1878 as the home of Joseph Chamberlain MP. This is the finest example of one of Birmingham’s most important architectural double acts – William Martin and John Chamberlain. Between them they designed a whole swathe of gothic revival schools, many of which are still in use – Ladypool Road School, or converted into another use – the Ikon Gallery building. However, the creation of Highbury Hall shows their talents at their peak. Inside the building feels more like a medieval banqueting hall with wooden panelling, elaborately decorate ceilings and the finest tile work.

Bartons Arms, Aston
Architects James and Lister Lea – built 1901.
For a short ten-year period at the end of the 19th century, the design of the British pub went into overdrive. Outside, the British pub was covered in highly popular and ornate terracotta clay. Inside, the pub would be covered in decorative tiles. The Bartons Arms represents the pinnacle of that pub era. Ranked amongst the cathedral of pub interiors, as no expense was spared as the interior was covered in the finest tiles and most ornate iron and woodwork possible. With the old Aston Hippodrome across the road, snob screens were erected above the bar counter so famous actors could drink in complete privacy.

Church of St Agatha, Sparkhill
Architect W.H.Bidlake – built 1899.
Birmingham had some of the finest Arts and Crafts architects at the end of the Victorian period. One of the best was W.H.Bidlake who designed some of the most elegant churches in Birmingham. One of his best is the Church of St Agatha’s in Sparkhill. In any small town, this would be a cathedral – the size and quality of design is that good. Yet here it is in inner city Sparkhill, tightly surrounded by terrace housing. Its tower dominates the skyline for miles around.

Friends Meeting House, Bournville
Architect W.A.Harvey – built 1905.
The Friends Meeting House is at the heart of the Bournville estate, where every single building was designed by W.A.Harvey. The whole estate is wonderful, again showing the Birmingham Arts and Crafts movement at its best. There is so much I could have chosen from on this estate, but I must select the Friends Meeting House. It has been designed in a Germanic style, with its sweeping roofs and octagonal turret, such that this building wouldn’t look out of place in central Europe.

Odeon Cinema, Sutton Coldfield (now Empire Cinema)
Architect Harry Weedon and Cecil Clavering – built 1936.
Birmingham was the birthplace of the Odeon Cinema company, founded by Oscar Deutsch. All his cinemas were designed in the Art Deco style which was sweeping across continental Europe. Britain did not build many Art Deco buildings, so the few we have need to be treasured. The cinema in Sutton Coldfield has all the classic features of the futuristic looking Art Deco style – flat roofs, curved walls, asymmetrical layout.

Rotunda, City Centre
Architect James Roberts – built 1964.
This is 1960s pop art architecture at it best. We wouldn’t build a circular tower these days – not efficient use of space. In the 1960s, they believed they could design buildings that looked more fitting in a futuristic sci-fi film. Much 1960s architect was designed on the cheap, but the Rotunda wasn’t. While the rest of the 1960s Bull Ring was rightly demolished, this fine building was kept and re-skinned in 2004, similar to what James Roberts originally wanted.

Moseley Road baths and library
Library designed by Jethro A. Cossins and F. B. Peacock.- opened 1895.
Baths designed by William Hale and Son. Opened 1907.
Two buildings which together show some of the best exterior terracotta work of its period. The baths are a national treasure, since they are the only completely intact and still working Edwardian public swimming baths in Britain. They show the social diversions that existed in 1907, with separate entrances and facilities for first class men, second class men and women – women didn’t have first or second class divisions and were only allowed access to washing facilities. Inside, the contrast between first and second class men is further exacerbated by the different interior designs. The first class men’s have fine tile work and ornate balconies. The Second class men’s baths are plain and functional.

Birmingham Town Hall
Designed by Hansom and Welch, finished by Charles Edge – started 1834, finished 1850.
To the citizens of Birmingham in the 1830s, the erection of Birmingham Town Hall must have been bizarre experience. In the drab smoke filled street of this growing town, here was a something that looked more fitting in ancient Greece. The finished Town Hall was the glory of Birmingham for many years and it was not surprising to find Mendelssohn giving the first musical performance of the Oratorio ‘Elijah’ here. Now fully restored to its 1834 design, removing ugly later additions, this building is again the glory of Birmingham

Aston Hall
Designed by John Thorpe. Construction completed 1635.
This is recognised to be one of finest Jacobean buildings in Britain. The setting of the building has been enhanced in the recent restoration which saw period gardens recreated around the building.

Edgbaston Guinea Gardens
Created 1849.
Okay not strictly a building, more an allotment site. But these are probably the oldest allotments in Britain. Created as Birmingham was fast expanding as an industrial city, these were leisure gardens for the workers to escape the smoky confirms of back to back houses. This small site, is a fraction of what once surrounded Birmingham, but still captures the spirit of those early leisure gardens. This is not a site for your traditional modern allotment holder, where every square inch is dug. Here, relaxing in a picturesque setting and growing vegetables and flowers in small patches is the norm. A great relic from our industrial past.

What about your favourite Birmingham buildings? Upload your photographs to: http://www.flickr.com/groups/birminghamarchitecture/

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