Urban Futures Student Trip: The Changing Face of Birmingham

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Course Visits and Trips

Does planning the future always involve destroying the past? How do we enact change at a human scale in cities? What are the critical issues facing cities today? What are the potential solutions of these issues? How can combined authorities or city councils create future proofed cities? What challenges do they face in doing so?

These were just some of the questions students were discussing on today’s walking tour around Birmingham. As part of their Urban Futures module students were given a guided tour of various areas of Birmingham by lecturers Mark Cowell and course leader Dr Ying Li.

The group’s tour started with a visit to Birmingham New Street Station (£750m redevelopment project) where the group discussed its evolution in design, its context, improved legibility and its effectiveness as a gateway to Birmingham. The next stop was the Bullring with the third most photographed landmark in Britain (Laurence Broderick’s bronze bull The Guardian) and its iconic Selfridges building inspired by a Paco Robanne sequinned dress and made of 15,000 reflective Aluminium discs on a sheer cobalt blue skin.

The tour carried on to Paradise Circus in the heart of the city and surrounded by historic listed buildings, then onto Eastside (home to Eastside park, Birmingham’s first new City Centre Park in 130 years). The group discussed the international competition winning design of Eastside park as well as the Eastside regeneration project as a whole as the tour headed along the frontage of Millennium Point eastwards to the Digbeth Canal. HS2’s Birmingham Curzon Street Station project was also discussed including Birmingham City Council’s Curzon Street Investment Plan which could see £900 million spent on regeneration of the area around the new station over the next 30 years including 4000 homes over 150 hectares.

On to Digbeth, Birmingham’s creative neighbourhood which is increasingly evolving into an enterprising creative hub. The group discussed the ever evolving perception of place and the increasing presence of social media in defining character, led by fearless creatives working at a human scale.

“Our brief was to create a strong voice and place brand that resonated with this industrious community of proudly individual businesses. The result is a rich typographic identity inspired by the place and people of Digbeth.” dn&co.

“The inventive small businesses that define this emerging area are an eclectic mix — Digbeth is a place where blacksmiths and digital agencies work side by side. So this is a flexible brand, full of personality, exactly like Digbeth itself.” dn&co.

This last stop on the tour left us discussing if Digbeth was a way of life first and a place second. We discussed the complexities of similar community led regeneration through design and the role that planning, funding and design could have in the future to encourage similar change and foster new identities, new pockets of change in big cities.

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