The British city of Birmingham is not generally known for it’s beautiful buildings or fascinating architectural sculpture, but perhaps it ought to be. If it’s known at all, it’s as a second city to the more famous capital or for its proximity to the widely known Stratford Upon Avon.
Birmingham was known as the workshop of the United Kingdom, and it encouraged social mobility and political radicalism during the Industrial Revolution, as well as encouraging the widespread use of architecture and sculpture in public buildings.
With the turn of the 21st Century came a new surge in developments and ground breaking architectural projects. The range of architecture on display in the city has inevitably been hampered by all sorts of historical events, including the second world war, but this has led to wonderful examples of old and new sitting comfortably alongside one another today.
Architecturally, the most prominent building is also one of its newest. The Selfridges store has rapidly become an iconic structure for the city and features in many photographs. It’s a distinctive facade designed by a company called Future Systems and was formerly opened in 2003. It was commissioned as part of the new Bullring development.
It’s hard to describe as a structure. It looks like a vast silver cliff towering over the equally beautiful but more traditional Moor Street. The building glows over the city like a slightly self conscious teenage rebel. The reason Selfridges quite literally shines is because of the vast array of aluminium discs that reflects the light and spreads it round the vicinity, whilst simultaneously reflecting the sky in all its blues and greys.
It has been described variously as a sail, an ocean liner and an outer space explosion. It dominates the new city centre and cannot fail to cause comment or discussion. The lines are smooth and soft and somehow friendly too. It celebrates shopping and fun and is an entertainment icon all on its own.
What Selfridges does is to encourage visitors to look up, and some of the best examples of historical architectural sculpture in Birmingham are also seen by looking up. The city celebrated it’s civic pride and commercial success in the nineteenth century through its architectural sculpture.
The external decoration of the city’s Council House is a fine example of what to look for. It was designed by Yeoville Thomason and is designed to focus on Birmingham’s place in the United Kingdom and the city’s dedication to utilising arts in industrial production.
In the centre, the social hierarchy of the city is reflected with Britannia rewarding factory owners with laurel wreaths while the workmen and their wares are standing either side.
The focus of Victorian architecture in Birmingham was to celebrate the centuries ideals and principles. The city blossomed during the Industrial Revolution in particular which led to a boom in rental properties in the city which has yet to subside.
Architectural sculpture continues to be of importance to the city right through to the present day. The history of it going back hundreds of years, it’s influence was significant to the city’s development as well. For example, Birmingham’s School of Art became Britain’s first municipal school of art in 1885. It was founded upon Ruskin’s ideas on naturalism and William Morris’ arts and crafts principles. It influenced many of the carvings that adorn shops, schools and libraries in Birmingham even to this day.
Ruth writes travel articles for a number of blogs and sites and spent much of her youth travelling through Europe with her Italian parents. She settled in London after university and has been enjoying the architecture of England ever since.