CULTURE: Visions of an Opportunity Lost; the Birmingham Public Has a Last Chance to Visit the Former Museum of Science & Industry This Weekend before the Site Is Redeveloped. Terry Grimley Went for a Preview
Byline: Terry Grimley
For a place where I spent many happy and enthralled hours as both a child and a parent, Birmingham's former Museum of Science & Industry is a desperately sad sight today.
Stripped of its former exhibits -though the ancient central heating boilers and their associated plumbing look like heritage items in their own right - the remaining signage and empty display cabinets add a touch of the pathetic to the building's already forlorn atmosphere.
For nearly 50 years the chaotic cluster of buildings off Newhall Street housed a favourite attraction for Birmingham residents of all ages. More recent visitors have included thieves who have stolen Victorian fireplaces from the upstairs offices and smashed salvageable washbasins in a staff washroom in their hurry to rip out copper pipes, and drug addicts who have left hypodermic needles on the floor of the former security office.
Soon this period of neglect will come to an end as builders move in to create a new mixed development on the site. Some of the buildings familiar to former museum visitors will remain - in fact, rather more than you might expect.
The surviving fragment of the internationally renowned Elkington electro-plating factory - the former power hall, in which the museum's incomparable collection of steam engines was once housed - will be restored, together with the room behind it, which will become an open steel-framed structure looking out on to a new public space.
Alongside the still-visible line of the Whitmore canal arm which once ran through the site a former warehouse dating from the early 19th century will also be restored. Museum visitors may remember this as the narrow building in which various reconstructed workshops were once housed, next to the later building which held the aircraft.
More surprisingly, the developers will also retain the 1920s factory building along Charlotte Street where cars and mechanical instruments were shown on the ground floor, with science displays above.
The upper floors of this block will be converted for residential use, with innovative make-sell units on the ground floor.
This weekend the public has a last chance to explore the site in its current state, and can even see parts of the buildings which were never previously accessible to the public. The two-day event, which is part of Architecture Week, has been planned by artists Alistair Grant and Stuart Mugridge, who have given it the title "Remembering the Future".
They have devised a series of themed trails through the building, including a guide to the natural history of the site, which several pioneer species are now in the process of reclaiming, and a "hazardous" trail. Note that the event is deemed unsuitable for children under 14 or persons with special needs, and the site owners bear no responsibility for personal injury.
Visitors will also be invited to video contributions to a Public Memory Gathering archive, which will form part of a larger project called The Museum of Lost Heritage. This collaboration between developers St. …