Tuesday, 5 January 2016

From Carbuncle to Paradise

So another year has rolled by (I am sure the years get shorter the older I get) and during that time I have seen such a lot of changes in my home city of Birmingham. At the beginning of 2015 the people of Brum witnessed  the concluding chapter in the demise of the Old Library complex with the closure of Paradise Forum shopping centre, the main pedestrian thoroughfare from Chamberlain Square to Centenary Square, through to Broad Street. In November it was barricaded off completely ready for the demolition men to move in during December. 

Designed by architect John Madin and opened in 1974 by Harold Wilson, the Birmingham Central Library was one of the many targets in Prince Charles' infamous 'monstrous carbuncle' speech over 30 years ago in which he attacked modernist architecture saying the library looked like "a place where books are incinerated, not kept." 

It was much criticised with many agreeing with Charles that it was indeed a bit of a blot on the landscape landing right next to the Victorian splendour of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the majestic colonnades of the Town Hall.  Over the years however, it grew on people and ironically once it was decided a new library was to be built in Centenary Square and its fate had been sealed, Brummies took it to heart and started campaigns to save the building, with English Heritage applying for it to become a listed building.  The library lent its last book on 29 June 2013, with the New Libary opening in September of that year. Its final curtain call was in 2014 when it doubled as MI5 HQ in the BBC series The Game.  On 31 January 2015 a wake was held outside to mark its passing with people bringing food and drink and carrying candles.  

So first day back on my way to work on the morning of Sunday 3rd January, which normally would have taken me through Paradise Forum before it was sealed off, I stopped to pay homage and took a few photos.  The streets were deserted and the few folk I saw were the homeless sheltering in subways or doorways trying in vain to keep dry from the persistent rain. Post German Market, Christmas and New Year the whole scene looked very bleak and dystopian.   

The Central Library in better days.

And of course this is the New Library in Centenary Square looking rather like a wedding cake.

Known simply as 'Paradise' and due for completion in 2026, the massive regeneration scheme has now begun in earnest with the Central Library making way for new office blocks, shops, restaurants and a new road system. This is an artist's impression of how it will all look.  For the residents of Birmingham however, it will mean 10 years of disruption but I for one think it will be well worth it. The city can only benefit as has been the case with the canalside redevelopment of Brindleyplace which was recently shortlisted as one of the ten best places in England. For a while I think despite its size and population, Birmingham was in danger of losing its second city status behind Manchester and Liverpool but with the opening of the New Library and Grand Central the city is fast becoming a 'bucket list' tourist destination with new restaurants, bars, shops and hotels popping up everywhere. Birmingham is deservedly well and truly back on the map as the UK's second city. I must visit!

Happy New Year!

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