Does Great Architecture Make a Great City?

Published on 9th January 2015
Shortly before Christmas, Rough Guide produced its annual list of the top ten cities in the world to visit. While some of the choices were relatively conventional – Hamburg, New Orleans, Johannesburg, Wellington – one city among the number raised more than a few eyebrows: Birmingham, UK.

Voted as the home of the ‘least attractive accent’ in the Britain in a 2014 YouGov poll, with some of the country’s highest unemployment figures and more widely associated with its industrial past than its cultural present, Birmingham was an unexpected entry on the list. Especially when considering that the likes of Paris, Rome, London and Sydney were conspicuous by their absence.

The reasons Rough Guide gave for Birmingham’s ninth place inclusion on their list focused mainly on the multiracial diversity of the city, the vast array of dining options (the ‘balti triangle’ may be famous, but Turkish, Greek, Japanese, Argentinian, traditional British, fusion, and just about every other style of cuisine you can think of is present), and cultural attractions. What really interested us here at Apropos however, was the mention of the city’s architecture.

While the RIBA Stirling Prize nominated Library of Birmingham has been much publicised, and the other-worldly Selfridges building has become something of an architectural icon, Birmingham’s cityscape has caught the attention for other reasons. The ‘crop of recycled buildings’, which house key cultural attractions are one of the city’s greatest assets; the old Birds Custard Factory has become a hive of artistic innovation; the thrusting Rotunda has been transformed from a derelict office block to provide top level accommodation, as well as a useful landmark; the renovated grade I listed Town Hall stands as proud as it did when it first opened its doors in 1834 and was proclaimed ‘the finest music hall in the country’; while the city’s once decidedly seedy New Street Station has become a squeaky clean wonder in white and light, boasting a vast glazed atrium dome that Apropos would be proud of!

More interesting architecture is set to come for Birmingham, with the new John Lewis building making waves and much debate over the future of that old ‘concrete monstrosity’, the ex-Birmingham central library.

Rough Guide seems to think that Birmingham is on the up, but it’s interesting to see how a growing emphasis on the city’s architecture seems to correlate with a growing cultural appreciation of place. At Apropos, we’ve always believed that great architecture leads to a great living environment on the micro level. Perhaps Birmingham is evidence that architecture can influence life on the macro level too?

Fancy a little architectural excellence in your own home? Get in touch with apropos today on 0161 342 8206 or request a design consultation with us here.


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