New Buildings Have No Beauty or Courage

By Crace, Jim | The Birmingham Post (England), June 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

New Buildings Have No Beauty or Courage


Crace, Jim, The Birmingham Post (England)


Award-winning writer Jim Crace was inspired to write his novel Arcadia by early plans for the redevelopment of the Bull Ring. We invited him to comment on the latest model for the scheme, which went on display this week.

My immediate reaction to the latest Bull Ring scheme is that this is the same old story of Birmingham's lack of confidence in its architecture. Because it has no confidence, it wants to look like other places. All that does is to encourage the homogenisation of this city. I've just come back from Chicago, an immensely distinctive and beautiful city which has its own vernacular style.

Here we don't have any enthusiasm for our architecture except a cussed fondness for buildings like the Rotunda. It's very interesting that the one thing that seems to be exciting people about the Bull Ring development is the future of the Rotunda, rather than responding to the beauty or courage of the new buildings - because they have no beauty or courage.

On the skyline of a great city a statement is being made, but there is no statement here.

The skyline is a non-skyline, it's a huge mish-mash.

This redevelopment is replacing something that's ugly, but works because of the democratic feel of its spaces, with something that's just as ugly but has had the democracy taken away from it. We know those market spaces are not going to work in this context.

Everyone knows it was a great mistake to go higher than the spire of St Martin's church. The spire ought to be free, rather than dominated by high buildings.

One of the things we were promised was that this new development was going to reintroduce the slope from the Rotunda down into Digbeth, to give us a sense of vision and some panoramic views. When Birmingham for People were campaigning against the original plans we thought this was the one victory that had been achieved.

But these plans don't deliver that. There is no sense of geography, there is no sense of history. It's very depressing.

It's going to be more of the same. How far can you extend these streets with all these international chain shops and international-looking buildings? What Birmingham desperately needs is areas which are different from the areas we've already got.

The tunnel next to the Rotunda is robbing us of the one thing we have got there at the moment - the sky. That's the last thing you need when you come out of a shopping mall where you don't know whether you're facing east, north or west. …

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