Birmingham‘s new civic library, a towering gleaming box clad in a filigree of black and gold metalwork, which rises ten floors above Centenary Square, is testimony to the transformation underway in England’s second city.
This week Birmingham was this week named one of 2015’s Top 10 Cities by the Rough Guides. No no longer England’s industrial powerhouse, now it is the services sector that drives its growth. But it’s iron and sweat heritage has been at the heart of its redevelopment with extensive areas of buildings renovated and repurposed.
Terribly damaged from bombing in World War 2, Birmingham went various stages of
rebuilding Birmingham, none of which could be described as beautiful. But recently a series of exciting and innovative redevelopments (like the library, Europe’s biggest, the gleaming Bull Ring shopping centre and the re-vamped New Street Station, due to open in 2015) are changing all that. Along the way it is turning into a shoppers’ paradise. Little wonder overseas tourism is up 30% year on year.
The new library is unmissable. Designed by the Dutch architect Francine Houben it cost almost GBP190million and shares a light and airy foyer area with the highly-respected Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Visitors rise on escalators that move through between layers of the building that twist and swirl in space, travelling past shelves that seem to hover in nothingness giving a slightly Hogwarts edge to the journey. From The Secret Garden on the roof is a spectacular view of the city.
Not far away is the pretty historic Jewelry quarter an area with more than 200 listed buildings and hundreds of small jewelry businesses as well as a growing number of bars and restaurants. And just five minutes walk from the central Bull Ring is the Custard Factory, a series of beautifully restored buildings now a lively creative centre.
If you’re visiting Birmingham it’s worth taking time out to visit its wonderful Museum and Art Gallery. It has a great collection of international art but far more interesting are the galleries devoted to the local history, documented the changes that have taken place over the decades. It’s recent jewel in the crown is the Staffordshire Hoard, a unique collection of Anglo Saxon gold and small artefacts unearthed in 2009 in nearby Lichfield.It’s also got a really good cafe. And on the subject of food, Birmingham’s Balti Triangle is the heart of the type of curry that many consider has become England’s national dish.