The Good, the Bad and the Bland

We need to talk about the ‘Paradise developments’ and the new look for Centenary Square. What I know about architecture and town planning you could fit on the back of a matchbox but I have some opinions so here they are.

Paradise is taking place on the site of the old Birmingham Central Library, a building so repugnant it was visible from space. The easy bit was razing that concrete eyesore to the ground. What to replace it with though?

Old Library
Photo credit: Elliott Brown

Presumably when you get rid of something it should be replaced by something demonstrably better. And the two glass edifices that now stand where the library once resided are indeed better. However I feel nothing but glacial excitement when I look toward them. Is that it? It’s a suffocating blandness, especially when they’re stood across from the elegance of the Council House and Town Hall. I think they should be bolder, weirder. I like that Brum is a bit weird. From the Rotunda to the Bullring to the Cube, they might not be pretty but they’re distinct. Go a bit wild. Instead we’re stuck with these vanilla glass blobs that reek of 9 to 5 tedium and now laughably have the word ‘paradise’ attached to them. You know there’s going be a Starbucks in there somewhere.


While we’re at it, their tired-looking neighbour the Copthorne Hotel is on seriously borrowed time too. You can read more on my thoughts about that here.

On the other hand we have the new Instagram-friendly look of Centenary Square, complete with water feature and what I presume are flag poles? My eyes tend to roll a little when something new appears in a city and your social media feeds turn into a relentless barrage of the same thing from slightly different angles (hello Knife Angel). It’s been a little similar here with every man and his dog feverishly getting their own take on the exciting new thing in Birmingham and the endless photos, pretty as they are, becoming increasingly interminable.


That all changed though when I actually went there one evening last week. The entire atmosphere around the place was happy and relaxed, kids flapping around in the fountains and others sat around smiling and laughing. Some people were enjoying getting that perfect shot of the Library with the water in the foreground as it spouts up into a cocktail of garish colours. Others weren’t doing much at all but had found a nice, serene spot in the city to watch the world go by. The whole experience changed how I felt about the place and it could become an iconic part of the city if everything falls into place.


The area isn’t finished yet. The tram line that flanks it on one side is still under construction so we’re yet to see its final form, which means there’s still time for disappointment but I think that’s unlikely. This has quickly become quite a joyous area of the city centre that welcomes creatives and misfits as much as it does families and tourists. I’m excited to see what it will look like when it’s finished.

It’s been six long years since the taps were turned off on the Floozie in the Jacuzzi. Sad as that is, I’m now a little less bothered.

One thought on “The Good, the Bad and the Bland

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  1. I completely agree James. The reflection pool is lovely with a great atmosphere, though I’m not a fan of the flag poles. But the new “paradise” buildings are so bland and don’t complement the beautiful Town Hall and Art Gallery. Interesting buildings are definitely better.


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