Saturday, 25 January 2014

My Birmingham

Occasionally my little world of green hills and rivers (currently bigger rivers) expands to include a range of cities; most often, Birmingham. The last time I was here with specific time to wander, I was visiting the Lace exhibition in the Gas Hall (and, excitingly, attending the conference relating to it).

and enjoying the lace emerging from the building site that has now become the Library of Birmingham.

Now complete, this building, and its contents, and its funding, has been the subject of much comment, and some controversy. I think it is brilliant. A public building celebrating the arts, celebrating culture, and creating fantastic spaces from which to see, engage with, and be inspired by the city surrounding it.

[Aside: P and I also recently visited the refurbished Birmingham Rep, which is now part of the same building, and saw the brilliant Tartuffe from the front row. I only wish I could afford to go back more regularly, and that trains home from Birmingham didn't preclude evening performances without the extra expense of overnight accommodation]

But more of the Library another time. This week, work has called me to Birmingham, and it was the little details of the many and varied architectural styles that caught my attention. Birmingham has been a metropolis for a long time, so significant buildings like the Cathedral, which might in other cities stand out, are here tucked away amidst the taller office buildings, and the green space which surrounds them has become a crossing-place, a meeting place, a space for a few snatched minutes of calm.

In the surrounding streets, modern shopfronts jostle with older frontages, like this pub:

And office blocks retain the traces of what they once were: the Law Library; First Floor Offices (of some description); Ships sailing over what is now a solicitors' firm.

Arcades, like in Manchester or Paris, are similarly a feature of this architecture: suddenly the monolithic fa├žades give way to something rather different; intriguing, inviting.

Thankfully, they also still seem to house many of the independent retailers of the city.

Meanwhile, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery may contain an interesting and beautiful collection of paintings, the Staffordshire Hoard (certainly worth a visit, if you've not seen it) and a well organised series of exhibitions, but they also seem to have a few of the now-rare red phone boxes stashed away!

[Apologies for the blurry photo - the light was abandoning me at this stage!]

Best of all, situated as they are right in the heart of the city, they're close enough to visit on your lunch-break (and the visit is free, with donation boxes available if you're able to give to this cause), so you can catch up with your favourites and gather a bit of that peace around you before returning to the maelstrom.

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