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Blue blob in Birmingham: Birmingham continues its worship of the slightly outdated with its latest big building.

BIRMINGHAM'S SHOPPERS GET A GROTESQUELY HIGH FASHION ADDITION TO THEIR SKYLINE; RESULTS OF THE RECENT COMPETITION FOR THE NEW EGYPTIAN MUSEUM IN CAIRO; FAREWELL TO CEDRIC PRICE--PETER COOK SALUTES A BRILLIANT ARCHITECTURAL THINKER AND STYLISH BON VIVEUR; BROWSER; LETTERS; VIEW FROM INNSBRUCK.

Poor old Birmingham never seems to get it right. For instance, its plans for reorganization to cope with motor traffic were held up by the Second World War and so its inner ringroad was almost out of date before it was opened in the '60s. It was occasionally used for motor racing: a more bizarre conjunction of urbanity and sport can scarcely be imagined--but then the city was one of the great motor manufacturing centres of the world. Its railway station is quite the nastiest in England (which is saying a lot). The Bull Ring, the city's big central square, was pedestrianized (apparently by civil engineers) at a time when pedestrianization was going through a very bad patch and it is surrounded by some of the dullest post-war buildings in the country.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Now, in an attempt to inject new life into the Bull Ring, the great department store Self-ridges asked Future Systems to build its Birmingham outpost. The result is sadly like a blue blancmange with chicken-pox. As a contribution to the cityscape, it is scaleless, uninviting and completely out of sympathy with its surroundings (though admittedly they are difficult to sympathize with).

Some 16 000 aluminium discs have been attached to the exterior of the blue rendered insulation of the main carapace by a process not unakin to sticking in drawing-pins. They are entirely decorative, and from certain angles, give the impression of reptilian skin. Doubtless they will work extremely well, though their use is most daring in terms of construction, cleaning and maintenance. But what are they for? They scarcely modulate the scale of the bulging monster they cover, and in many ways serve to emphasize its grossness.

Passe?

At a time when the fashion for blob architecture seems to be becoming passe in most architectural circles, both professional and academic, it is typical of Birmingham's cultural history over the last hundred years for the city to have latched onto Blobismus, the most self-indulgent and un-urban fad of the last half century. While Future Systems have tried to some extent to give their blancmange an urban presence, its form negates what little dignity the urban space tries to have.

It is difficult to imagine that the building will ever be loved by future generations. But there is possibly a chance. It could perhaps become liked in the same way that certain grotesque breeds of dog have an attraction--partly because we are sorry for them. P.D.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Photographs: Michael Betts/VIEW
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Outrage
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:458
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