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109 visual culture


ArchITeCTurE issue

Welcome to 109 The visual culture magazine for Birmingham This magazine strives to find visual culture happening in Birmingham. We also look at how the visual elements make up the city – whether this comes in the form of architecture, signs, typography, colour or whether social conditions effect the visual appearance of Birmingham. Why ‘109’’? Its the pantone colour of the famous Selfridges department stores, whose building gives a distinct visual look to Birmingham The architecture in the city creates a dynamic visual appearance; most specifically how the classic and historic buildings conflict with the modern and contemporary architecture, creating a visual tension between the two. We look at various ‘tensions’ and how architecture can impact us and we ask what people think of the revitalisation projects happening in Birmingham. Also featuring are the buildings that inspired J.R.R Tolkien in Birmingham whilst he was writing The Lord of the Rings, some interesting facts about the Bullring and we look at concrete, as well as our guide to what’s on in the city.


what’s on Nedko Solakov- All in order, with exceptions. 21st September - 13th November Autumn Almanac - Various exhibitions. 17th - 20th November


Exhibition opening night 6-8pm 29th November Lost in lace Birmingham 29th October - 19th Febuary museum

and art gallery

My Generation : The glory years of brit rock The Public Carillon shadows by Jony Easterby Bandwidth by Josh Nimoy All 21st October - 15th January Contemporary crafts fair Midlands 19th November - 18th December Art Center Small print: Big impression 22nd October - 4th December The greatest movie ever sold 11-13 November

William Pope .L “Child” Eastside 17th September - 5th November Projects Painting show 25th November - 18th Febuary


Nedko Solakov All in order, with exceptions. Solakov’s exhibition features one piece of work from the last 30 years being selected from his vast body of work. Solakov’s work is very highly personal and this, combined with the vast time the exhibition covers creates a visual autobiography of his life. Solakov’s work is narrative in its nature and has a melancholic sense of humour that is prevalent throughout.

tension Through photography we explore how this visual tension appears in the city, we wanted to be able to show how this creates a dynamic city and that the contrast between the buildings helps to create the visual appearance of Birmingham. The revitalisation of the city sees the creation of modern architecture but also sees the restoration of older buildings. The Ikon for example combines both these elements; a restored school house with modern touches, most notably the staircase and lift surrounded by glass, photo right. This makes the tension very obvious and easy to see whereas sometimes its not quite so noticeable. In the photographs we try to show how this looks in various spaces and also how it perhaps effects the atmosphere of the city, does it create a sense of tension and that of a contrasted city or does it show Birmingham’s determination to be a progressive and innovative city and its struggle to achieve this? Many of the modern approaches have a feel that they are progressive, with intelligent ways of looking at architecture and at design for spaces. The new library is a prime example of this, once completed it will feature a vast archive of various media from photography, print to literature and music. There is currently a ‘virtual’ library that is accessible to view the interior of the library and you can go to virtual book readings, that determination shines through in their openness to new technology. This is also shown in the architecture, the exterior facade echoes the technological advances that helped create the industrial growth in Birmingham as well stating the library’s willingness to adopt new technology. Birmingham is a city that embraces change and this is visible in the architecture. Some of the various revitalisation projects happening in

The architecture of Birmingham is constantly changing which creates a very dynamic visual to the city. The older buildings contrast greatly to the new and modern, sometimes this is subtle but other times it is very overt. This creates a tension between the elements as well as an interesting cityscape. by James Dexter

Birmingham are the new library, the REP theatre and a new building to house BIAD, all to be completed in the next three to four years. It is also a city with a rich heritage which can be seen in the restoration projects of old buildings that have been undertaken over the years, most notably St Martin’s in the Bullring. £1.9 million was spent in order to restore the church as part of the project to build the Bullring. This is a very visual strong element that is an integral part of the Bullring and is almost symbolic that Birmingham doesn’t hide its heritage but is prepared to welcome what the future holds.






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bullring statistics


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32 entrances



football pitches

1960’s bull ring 32,500 m2

selfridges 23,000 m2

15,460 tonnes structural steel = 2 eiffel

13 mixers pour 216,000 tonnes of concrete

15,000 aluminum discs on the Selfridges building Modes of transport to visit Bullring



average spent per person

£5 £10 £20 £20 £20








about the bullring There are many iconic buildings in the Birmingham landscape, but none have the sense of distinction of the Selfridges building. Its uncompromising appearance creates a clash with the surrounding buildings, such as the modernist Rotunda building and the victorian gothic St Martin’s Church, creating a confusing jumble of architectural styles that some find exciting and inspiring, whereas others find an eyesore. The store was designed by Future systems and was influenced by the French designer Paco Rabanne’s chainmail dresses. The outer structure has 15,000 metallic disks, which catch the sun and shows Selfridges ‘commitment to all that is new and innovative’. On its opening day it saw 276,600 people come through its doors and in 2004 it had a mind boggling 36.5 million visitors making it the busiest shopping centre in the UK. This is understandable as it is one of only four places that house a Selfridge’s department store. It also has the fourth largest Debenhams. Its innovative design has given it a timeless look that fits Birmingham’s ever developing skyline and one that will see it being as iconic and exciting in twenty years as it is now.

commitme new and in by Peter Coleman

ent to all that is nnovative

J.R.R. Tolkien John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Free State Province, South Africa, 1892. Later on, when he was 3, the family moved to England. What would have been a short visit turned into a permanent stay in the country because of his father’s sudden death. Tolkien’s mother, Mabel took him and his younger brother, Hilary to her parents in Birmingham. Soon after they moved to Sarehole. While living there for 4 years he spent many hours playing around local settings such as Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog. Tolkien used these places as inspiration for Hobbition and The Shire in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Nearby attractions like the Clent, Lickey and Malvers Hills also inspired many scenes in his books. Tolkien’s mother taught the two boys when they were younger. Tolkien loved to draw landscapes and he was very interested in languages, by the age of 4 he could read and write fluently. Some of his favourites were stories about Red Indians, fantasy works by George MacDonald (known for his fairy tales and fantasy novels) and the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang. He disliked a lot of books as well, for example he thought that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (by Lewis Carroll) was “amusing but disturbing”. Tolkien’s mother died when he was 4, after that he and his brother lived in various places mainly around Edgbaston. In 1908 they moved to 37 Duchess Road with Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a priest of the Oratory, since this was their mother’s wish. During this time they lived very close to Perrott’s Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks which are said to have inspired the images of the Two Towers in his books. Tolkien went to King Edward’s School in Birmingham, he really enjoyed learning there and participated in all kinds of activities organized by the School Club. Tolkien and three of his friends formed a semi-secret society called T.C.B.S. – Tea Club Barrovian Society. They had meetings where they would secretly

J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy books made him one of the most well known and successful writers of the 20th century and it is said that buildings in Birmingham were the inspiration for some places in his books. by Nikolett Schiszler drink tea in the library, although later on they moved to the cafe over Barrow’s Stores in Corporation Street. They would discuss language, literature, mythology as well as art, music and current affairs. They became very close friends and kept in contact for many years after leaving school. When he was 16 he fell in love with Edith Mary Bratt, his future wife. Tolkien’s guardian, Father Francis didn’t like them being together, he believed that Edith was distracting Tolkien from his school work. He forbade him to see her or even talk to her until Tolkien turned 21. On his 21st birthday Tolkien asked Edith to marry him in a letter, her answer was yes and they finally got married in 1916. Since Birmingham is the place where he grew up, it played a very important part of his life. There are number of parks and walkways in Hall Green and Moseley areas dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien. Although he was an author of academic work on Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, it is for his novels that Tolkien is best known, The Hobbit (1937) and the trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954/55) are the best selling fiction books of the 20th century.

“...wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant... Barad-dûr, fortress of Sauron.”

concrete depress After being labelled the “concrete jungle” by many, it’s not surprising why Birmingham City Council brought in plans of redevelopment. With 1970’s architecture still remaining in parts of the city, it becomes clear why people of Birmingham would prefer a more modern look. Architecture can give an environment certain connotations, and project the nature of a place. This brutalist look of concrete which still exists in certain parts of the city could reflect badly and reduce tourism. It makes a place look dull and depressing, and can affect how people feel in these environments. When you compare The Pallasades and other old fashioned shopping centres against the more modern centres such as The Bullring and The Mailbox, a clear divide can be seen. People feel welcome, and the areas seem more open with the use of glass construction and other modern features. Concrete can give areas a claustrophobic feel, and seem like monstrosities taking over cities. The density of the building, with lack of windows and visual space makes the buildings look dull and bleak. More recent buildings tend to break up the aesthetics with a use of colour or different materials such as glass or metal. The 1964 Bull Ring Centre was criticised for its aggressive concrete finish, and was replaced with a much more favoured and modern design. As a part of Birmingham’s redevelopment plans, the Pallasades shopping centre is set to be redesigned alongside its neighbouring New Street Station. Diminishing the eyesore concrete grey style, and being replaced by an “avant-garde” style exterior to compliment its surrounding buildings. Similarly, the old Birmingham Central Library, with its exterior much to be desired for, is set to be accompanied by a new Library of Birmingham. Again, a clear difference in architectural design can be seen, and the concrete slabs have been replaced with glass, metal, colour and lighting.

The concrete jungle is slowly being replaced by new modern architecture but the buildings are still visible, contributing to the visual aesthetic of the city in an arguably negative way. by Sadie Rose May

The original central library has been heavily criticised as an eye sore, and was even commented on by Prince Charles as “looking more like a place for burning books, than keeping them”. Prince Charles has also commented on other buildings, and has been a heavy critic of brutalist architecture, calling them “piles of concrete”. The brutalist movement has been largely replaced with structural expressionism and de-constructivism. Another criticism of the material would be that it doesn’t age well, especially in damp climates. The buildings will become stained due to rain and other climate effects, and can attract moss. This creates a decayed look, and can decrease the aesthetic appeal of the buildings.


new library

responses to the

We asked the people of Birmingham to give us a few words on their thoughts on what they thought of the new library, whether they thought it was a good idea or not and their opinions on the design.

I just got in town today!

They are throwing it up so fast, I mean, how long’s it going to last. The old one was only built in the 70’s.

Yeah...I like it.

As long as the lifts work. I haven’t really used the old one but it looks good.

Why are they Don’t do nothing for me, I’ve been using the old one for years. It’s the content that counts, not the looks. We’re not from here, so I dunno what you’re on about.

Yeah, I’ve just come from the old one! I like new things and Birmingham’s progressiveness and to do new things, but the name for fucks sake ‘the library of Birmingham’ I mean, really?

Loud and proud.

Good development, interesting to see it and know what it looks like when it’s finished. It’s cool. It’s very big, sort of impressive, it’s going to dominate.

Hideous, over engineered and useless because books will be obsolete because It’s taking so long and takes up too much space of the internet soon. from centanry square.

building it?

Better than the old one.

Bigger than expected, half my friends like it half of them don’t I still haven’t decided.

It’s an eye sore. It’s very odd looking, but thats probably a good thing. I still haven’t decided if I like it or not.

Not as bad as I thought It’d be. I thought the iron mesh would go all the way to the top. The world’s supposed to end in 2012, so its It’s better than the old one. a bit pointless, we won’t even get to use it. It isn’t really there yet, but it looks good as I see it going up, the colour breaks it up although initially I thought it looked like barbwire. Looking forward to it, going to have lots of IT. It looks outstanding. There you are. That’s three

109 visual culture

109 Visual Culture Issue one  
109 Visual Culture Issue one  

Produced by James Dexter, Sadie Rose May, Nikolett Schiszler and Peter Coleman students of Visual Communication at BIAD