Digbeth in Birmingham is quite a mix of eras containing as it does Birmingham's oldest pub and newest retail development and everything in between.
This brick arch is one of a series making up a railway viaduct coming into Birmingham from London, built in 1893. There is a good lesson to be learned in this bridge because it is still standing 128 years later and still doing the job it was intended to do while at the same time looking awesome in the original meaning of the word, as in inspiring awe.
When this arch was being built The Independent Labour Party of the United Kingdom has its first meeting. Back then it was a party dedicated to improving the lives of the dreadfully oppressed working classes. Today it is more concerned with silencing the working classes, and improving the lives of the apparently dreadfully oppressed middle classes, who are far more oppressed than anyone was, back in 1893.
Also in 1893 the iconic Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is dedicated, after 40 years of construction. That is a pretty awesome fact for a religion only founded in 1830.
Also the United States Supreme Court legally declares the tomato to be a vegetable. This only goes to prove that the United States Supreme Court doesn't always get it right.
But I digress, the arch itself is also angled, leading to these amazingly complex geometric patterns in the brickwork. I once read that when structures like these were built in the past, it was so difficult to work out accurate tolerances for weight bearing without computers, that they ultimately used to work out their best estimate and then double or treble it just to be sure. Some older train tunnels have up to eight layers of brick lining them. I don't think this arch is going anywhere anytime soon.
This spotty structure below is world famous and was built for a British Department Store, Selfridges.
The Birmingham store, designed by architects Future Systems, is covered in 15,000 spun aluminium discs on a background of Yves Klein Blue. Since it opened in 2003, the Birmingham store has been named every year by industry magazine Retail Week as one of the 100 stores to visit in the world. The building is also included as a desktop background in the Architecture theme in Windows 7. International Klein Blue (IKB) is a deep blue hue first mixed by the French artist Yves Klein. IKB's visual impact comes from its heavy reliance on ultramarine, as well as Klein's often thick and textured application of paint to canvas.
I have a photo somewhere of a section of the building with one disc fallen off. I called it slipped disc. The building was recently refurbished, which involved removing the 15,000 discs and then putting them back.
This one is a hotel. I'm not sure what size bed you get in a room that shape. probably not much point trying to get a good night's sleep.
Public Art. You know it is public art because it has gone rusty. Rust is very popular with artists today because unlike artists of the past who were so creative that all new art was very different to what had gone before (that seemed to be the point), today, all new art is just the same as the art that has gone before (That seems to be the point), approved by the same committees who know about public art and probably have Doctorates in understanding public art. Rust is worthy.
Accidental views like this bringing together several visual components purely unintentionally seem to make far better "art" than the stuff designed by the committees.
It's rusty, it must be more public art.
When you list a building to preserve it, with no thought given to it's context and surroundings you end up with something that looks like this. Bizarrely the builders who I got chatting to were having to rebuild the old brick building that they had just restored because it didn't look right. The Doctor of restoration probably thought the bricks were the wrong shade of old. I expect the windows were smashed by conservation experts too just to get that abandoned building look just right. They probably had a Doctor of vandalism on hand. The barbed wire is hand crafted in a specialist workshop by someone in Victorian costume.
In the back streets, full of old buildings that the building doctors aren't too worried about, paintbrushes get carried away and produce some interesting architectural snippets.
This is inside Millennium Point below, a massive structure built with public money to locate what used to be the Science Museum. The original Science Museum looked like a museum and the building was a museum piece itself, the conservation doctors thought it looked a bit old and as it would only have cost a million to clean up and someone had given them 60 million which was burning a hole in their pockets, they decided it would be more expensive to knock it down and build a new one, so that's what they did.
The Science Museum, being full of sciency things was considered a bit old fashioned and musty so we needed a new "experience" called The Think Tank . It was the perfect destination for a generation of young people never destined to ever need to think. It was full of toys in glass cases that had buttons to push to make them move, for the day it opened. I'm not sure how many ever moved the day after it opened. It was a complete failure, dumbing down science into an "interactive" "experience" to attract those who weren't interested in it in the first place, while putting off those who were. For generations it had been considered to be an interactive experience to enter a building and look at exhibits and find out all about them, but it turned out that all those museum visitors making millions of visits for hundreds of years had got it all wrong.
An award-winning Birmingham landmark in the heart of Eastside, Millennium Point is a unique venue destination in Birmingham City Centre, and just a short walk from all three main train stations. The home of ThinkTank (Birmingham’s science museum) and Birmingham City University amongst others, many of you will know our landmark building, but a lot more goes on behind the scenes than meets the eye!
It is now described. Millennium Point is a multi-use meeting and conference venue, public building and charitable trust in Birmingham, England.
In short, it is a white elephant that everyone feels the need to make look useful even though it has no real purpose. I love the spin where they assure us that something is actually going on behind the scenes and even though essentially a useless waste of money, it is really handy for three stations.
It subsequently got swallowed up by one of the universities and so when you enter it now to take pictures like these, a security guard who earns a salary you are paying, and who is guarding a building you paid for, will come up to you to tell you that you are not allowed to take pictures inside for security reasons. These are the pictures I took before I was accosted. It was doubly bizarre that I should be told this as there are about 5000 students in there everyday livestreaming their whole lives on their phones 24 hours a day. There isn't a square inch of the building not on full display on social media, so it must be very insecure indeed.
This is the outside of Millennium Point where it is OK to take photos. No security issues outside.
Next door is this amazing ruin which caught fire some years back. I had foolishly assumed it was still standing because it had a preservation order on it. But the doctors of conservation decided it would be fine to knock it down. It is now gone.
I particularly like the sign above the entrance on the right beautifully crafted in beige terracotta inviting the workpeople and goods to enter there. I looked for the other sign saying "Posh People Only" but it was nowhere to be found. Presumably posh people back then just used the grandest poshest entrance they could find and the sign on the right was more of a warning to them than an invitation for the workers.
The area is crisscrossed by canals which were the short lived super highways of their day, soon outperformed by the railways. Now that we all have doctorates and spend most of our lives on holiday rather than making stuff the canals have come into their own as a leisure facility so that people who rush around most of the time doing nothing useful can find time for a slower paced opportunity to do nothing useful.
Even the modern architecture gives a nod to the industrial brickwork of the past.
Most university architecture these days seems be straight out of the Disney palette. Perfect for Instagramming news about your new doctorate in telephone sanitation. That's a nod to Douglas Adams, the genius writer who is sadly no longer with us. In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy written in 1978 as a radio series he tells us about the planet Golgafrincham which sounds very much like planet Earth 43 years later.
Golgafrincham was a planet, once home to the Great Circling Poets of Arium. The descendants of these poets made up tales of impending doom about the planet. The tales varied; some said it was going to crash into the sun, or the moon was going to crash into the planet. Others said the planet was to be invaded by twelve-foot piranha bees and still others said it was in danger of being eaten by an enormous mutant star-goat.
These tales of impending doom allowed the Golgafrinchans to rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population. The story was that they would build three Ark ships. Into the A ship would go all the leaders, scientists and other high achievers. The C ship would contain all the people who made things and did things, and the B Ark would hold everyone else, such as hairdressers and telephone sanitisers. They sent the B ship off first, but of course, the other two-thirds of the population stayed on the planet and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.
The only thing he got wrong as far as I can tell is that he got the numbers a bit wrong, I think we would need a B ship to accommodate about half our population, starting with everyone left on Twitter.
This building below under construction in 2017 is the new Birmingham Conservatoire. The doctors of conservation decided that the 70's concrete Brutalism of the old conservatoire had had it's day. Too austere and plain. So they built this instead.
Symbolically each brick sticking out represents a million pounds. If you count them all you will end up with the sum Birmingham has wasted over the last forty years getting it wrong every time.
This is the one below that the doctors of conservation knocked down. As you can see there are huge improvements in the one above not least it's ability to use up all the allocated funds much more efficiently.