The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023

 Carchitecture is the architectural term where buildings and cars influence each other on the design of a city.  Birmingham is a prime example of this form of architecture planning.  The city suffered extensive bombing during the war and there were opportunities to plan a new streetmap.  The car was correctly predicted to be the vehicle of the future and construction techniques such as reinforced concrete allowed for new approaches to building design.  First off, I am not an architect and secondly I only arrived in Birmingham with my family in 1985.  My first impressions were not favourable as car journeys into the city centre were stressful.  Walking around the city was a challenge as you were faced with many pedestrian underpasses designed to allow the car priority.  

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Street art now features on boarded up shop windows.
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Everyone has a story to tell about SNOBS.
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
The outside of Snobs entering its last days of activity.

Over the years Birmingham has improved greatly and I love many of the new buildings especially the Library of Birmingham and Selfridges.  However, there are still remnants of brutalist architecture and one of these is the Ringway Centre on Smallbrook Queensway which connects Bristol Road with the Bull Ring and New Street.  Birmingham is always undergoing change and there is a Facebook page titled. “Birmingham, so good when it is finished”. This change has now involved the Ringway Centre which has been the focus of local news.  The city council has narrowly decided to demolish the building and replace it with several residential towers not made from concrete but with glass and steel. 

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
The Ringway Centre is in the autumn of its existence.

The intense debate gave me an idea for a personal photographic project.  I would go along and photograph the building and area over a couple of hours early in the morning.  I looked back through my photographs and realised that I have few pictures of the Ringway Centre.  This was a complete surprise especially as I have travelled through there many times. 

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Stop.
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Reflections.

My project started with a sunny morning and this helped as the low sun reflected off buildings onto the Ringway.  The buildings are covered in a purple wrapping celebrating Birmingham and the Commonwealth games in 2022.  Parts of this covering are starting to become torn and peeling away from the building.  My journey started at the top of Smallbrook Queensway near to the Bullring and I walked down towards Southside onto Holloway Circus also known as “Pagoda Island”.

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
The concrete structures were once lights for illuminating the Ringway Centre. The covering is now starting to tear.

Along the way there is some amazing street art with much of the painting completed during Lockdown. This artwork is on boarded up shop windows and I remember some fine guitar shops being housed here in the past. The western part of the Ringway Centre is populated with convenience shops, barber salons and other food outlets. The building is named Scala house and on ground level there is the Birmingham LGBT centre and finally the Eden bar. One assumes all these businesses will vacate the buildings in the near future.

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Urban contemporary artwork painted By Lucy McLauchlan
urban contemporary artwork painted By Lucy McLauchlan
Convenience store.
urban contemporary artwork painted By Lucy McLauchlan
The Eden Bar
urban contemporary artwork painted By Lucy McLauchlan
SBQ1

When we reached Pagoda Island, I took pictures back down Smallbrook Queensway.  

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
The former entrance to the Odeon Cinema and the Birmingham LBGT centre.
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Looking down Smallbrook Queensway from Pagoda Island.

There were several places where you can photograph behind the Ringway Centre, these include local car parks which back onto Southside and the China town area of the city.   One picture that I had to take was of the circular fire escapes at the rear of the building.  They have a unique design and are a favourite subject for local photographers.

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Looking up from the car park off Thorp Street.
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
Birmingham Southside – this view will radically change.
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
The space via Bath Passage with artwork by Gent64
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
The often photographed emergency exit staircase.

On reflection the Ringway Centre has not featured prominently in my photographic journey until I decided upon this series of pictures.  During my working days in the city, the dental school was based over by Aston.  When the school moved to Pebble Mill, the 61/63 and the 45/47 buses went down Smallbrook Queensway but I have few pictures of the details of the place. 

Other regrets include seeing the inside the building but I guess that will not be possible as it is set for demolition.  There was an Odeon cinema in the building and there are pictures of the abandoned area in a feature on the BirminghamLive website

Further information

Other activities that have taken place inside the Ringway Centre over the years include a large gym overlooking the cross ways at the end of Hurst Street.   The original tenants of the offices were connected with the railway industry but the spaces have long been vacated. If you are after a history of the Ringway Centre then Wikipedia is a great starting point.

The aim of this blog is to show a photographic record of the building after the Council voted to demolish the building

Finally if you wish to buy a concrete model of the building then head over to the Space.Play site that has a concrete model of the Ringway Centre plus many other brutalist icons of Birmingham.

The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023
A selfie taken (Jan 2020) on the No 45 bus to work. Travelling along Smallbrook Queensway, I held up the camera and the reflection rather like those mirrors at a fun fair split into two views.

Camera Settings – Except for a couple of iPhone pictures, the majority of the pictures were taken with my Canon D5 mk4 and my EF24-70mm f/2 lens. I always have it on manual setting which is a throwback to my father’s tuition. I was taught manual and use priority settings sparingly. I have a polariser filter on my camera that stops it down and this sometimes catches me out hence the blur on the pink taxi picture. My big camera is fun to use but is a magnet for people staring at you when taking pictures in an urban setting. Post processing is a case of increasing contrast and upping the shadows. This is a trick I learnt from reading Scott Kelby photographic books as it brings out the colours. A few other minor adjustments are done as I try to keep the feel of how the picture was taken. As with many of my pictures, I love the stories associated with the photography and one of the reasons that I enjoy writing this blog.

Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.

I enjoy a photographic walk with my Fujifilm x100v camera around the streets of Birmingham.  The early hours are best when few people are around and about.  This series of photographs begins at Eastside where the HS2 works are taking place.  Digbeth was next and I returned to Birmingham along the canal exiting again near to the HS2 works.  

Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
Digging holes and barriers around HS2

What is there to tell you about my walk?  No surprises, as building in Birmingham has not finished and HS2 is still digging and putting up barriers.  I took a few pictures and was interested to see BBC midlands covering the HS2 disruption in the evening news.  Why is HS2 taking so long and why is there so much disruption?  I do get upset with the blasé way they are undertaking the HS2 works.  I am sure it will look wonderful when finished but is it worth the upheaval and time taken.    
The latest BBC item puts HS2 under the spotlight.

Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
Curson street station awaits a HS2 upgrade.
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
The empty Woodman pub awaits customers but when will they return?

Digbeth was quiet for a Monday morning and since the pandemic there is less footfall during business hours. The nightlife is always busy but there is a definite change in activity during the day.  My next observation is the encroachment of high rise living around Digbeth and the loss of character with the demolition and neglect of buildings.  

Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
Micheal Jackson on a furniture shop door.

There are several brownfield sites around the area that will become large skyscrapers.  Other signs of change include the former Typhoo tea building which is starting to see activity around the relocation of the BBC to the building.  Change may not always be positive and one of my pictures is outside what was the DigBrew entrance.  Sadly this excellent brewery has ceased trading and artwork from the street artist Tempo33 marks the spot.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-66199790
Don’t go there.
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
The former Typhoo building soon to become the BBC Midlands Headquaters.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-66199790
Don’t park here.

There is much chaotic colour around the streets of Digbeth and the morning sun brings out the light and shadows.  The canalside is another area in Digbeth that is changing with several buildings undergoing renovation.  How this change will progress will be interesting to document in future months. 

Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
I’m late for an important date. (street art Tempo33)
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
Colours stuck to a wall in Digbeth.
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
Cryola’s wonderful street art is still attracting attention.
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
Standing in Liverpool Street looking up Fazeley Street.
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
Birmingham Canal Navigation through Digbeth
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
The details under the Great Barr Street bridge.
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
The Fox mural by Annatomix still impresses
Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
View of the canal buildings with Birmingham in the background.

My final picture was taken on my iPhone as I went past the Selfridges building.  I went low and framed the iconic discs in the background.  I was in luck as a woman walked past although she was confused by what I was doing.  The picture turned out well but was also a reminder not to attract undue attention during my street photography.

Eastside and Digbeth, July 2023.
The Selfridges Crossing.

Returning to the HS2 theme then there are more stories about the construction on my blog.  I have been documenting 16 acre wood and the damage caused by HS2 around Balsall Common since 2020.  Here is my account of this part of the HS2.

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HiVis Festival, Digbeth, 2022

The High Vis festival this year was at the Tea Works on Canal street. The wide open setting allowed for a range of Graffiti artists to ply their trade on the surrounding walls. I went to the festival with my family on the Saturday afternoon.

The street art painters were in good form as well, with many ready to chat with you and let you know what they were painting. All the walls were in action and several artists were already working when we arrived. Seeing Annatomix painting was a bonus. The family were keen to get back to the shops and I only discovered her working on her scorpion design on the way out. There were many different art works on display but due to timing, most of them were works in progress. I will go back later in the week to check out the finished artwork. Stay tuned. The queues for the children’s art painting were slow moving and we did not get a chance for the grandchildren to try out some painting. There was just a high demand in that area and we will be ready for next year.

We loved the skate boarding and the energy around the place. The skate boarders were excellent and there was the opportunity to get up close and see them in action. There was a gap which the skaters jumped over before turning around on the ramp. All the skaters negotiated the RedBull Road gap successfully and there was also a rail to skate along as well. The boarders are very skilful and also fun to photograph.The High Vis event is organised by Graffiti Artist and I am already looking forward to the next event in 2023.

If you want to see my report on the High Vis festival 2021 then please take a look. All of my Birmingham Street art posts are popular and I love to support the artists’ work and the High Vis festival.

HiVis Festival, Digbeth, 2022
Welcome

UoB Exchange IgersbirminghamUK

The University of Birmingham has a major economic impact on Birmingham and the West Midlands region.  The University educates students, is a major employer, a research leader in all sectors and a gateway bringing in global connections that benefit the city. Even though the University has a beautiful campus at Edgbaston, a physical footprint in the city centre has long been on the University’s wish list.  The old Municipal Savings Bank began to look an interesting project.  Especially with the location of the bank on the new look Centennial square.   

Produced by the University of Birmingham

The former Municipal Bank is a Grade II listed building and has historical links with the University.  Joseph Chamberlain was founder and first Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.  Neville Chamberlain, the son of Joseph Chamberlain was behind the building of the Municipal Bank on Broad Street.  It was first opened by Prince George in 1933 and has a long history of underpinning the wealth of an ambitious city.  However, the bank closed at the turn of the century and the last 20 years has seen the building empty with no tenants. It was famously portrayed as the AC-12 base in the BBC series ‘Line of Duty’.  The iconic safe deposit boxes in the vault were used in a Chanel advert amongst the various roles that the bank filled in these barren years.  In 2018, the University negotiated a long lease of the building with Birmingham City Council and the renovations began.

I was fortunate in my University of Birmingham role to see these renovations firsthand in October 2019 before the pandemic.  During my visit, I took a series of pictures on my iPhone.  I had no idea which room I was photographing, although I remember the vaults where the safe deposit boxes reside.  They are so interesting to see.  Rows and rows of metal doors with numbers on them.  One can only begin to imagine what was contained within them.  The building was being gutted and there was so much to do from floor to ceiling in each room.

UoB Exchange
Banking floor

Fast forward to October 2021.  Hasan Patel who is part of Communications Team at the University of Birmingham invited me to coffee at the Exchange after his Marathon Run. (Follow Hasan on Twitter to learn how to sponsor him on his running diary). We spent an enjoyable couple of hours putting the world to right.  Hasan introduced me to the University team at the Exchange and we visited several rooms in the building. 

Not long after my visit with Hasan, IgersBirminghamUK announced an Instameet at the Exchange.  Immediately I signed up and went along.  This Instameet is a friendly collection of photographers.   We were given access to all areas including the Board room and the former bank managers office which I did not get to see on my first visit.  The other interesting feature is the balcony where the bank manager opened the doors and looked out onto the banking floor to check that the bank was running smoothly.  During the Instameet, this was a favourite spot for all the photographers.

Whilst we were in the vault, we were also given access to a utility room where many of the safety deposit boxes were stored.  Now many of the boxes are placed strategically around the building and are a feature of those rooms which are used as teaching spaces and meeting areas.  This basement room had many of the old boxes and proved to be a fantastic place to take photographs.  There were still some stickers remaining and on one of the boxes the notice stated that this box could only be opened in the presence of a solicitor.  Once again one could only imagine what was kept in these boxes over the years.

We finished the tour and adjourned to the Distillery Pub next to the Roundhouse.   This is another interesting place to visit and includes a wall mural of a canal horse painted by one my favourite street artists, Annatomix.   The Roundhouse was used to care for the canal horses that pulled the boats and has been renovated as a historical place of interest. There is even one of the horse stables on view.

This was a day taking pictures of historical buildings that have been brought up to date in a city that is rediscovering its roots and moving forward.  Thank you to the team at IgersBirminghamUK for organising the tour and The University of Birmingham for opening the Exchange for this Instameet.

I have also included a blending of the old and new photographs in two of the rooms to show how the building has been modernised between my two visits.

Pictures taken with iPhone 11 and 13, camera Fujifilm x100v

If you are interested in joining an IgersBirmingham Instameet then please follow them on Instagram. An account of a previous IgersBirmingham Instameet at Moseley Market is also available on my blog.


Birmingham by Annatomix

As you will have seen I have been stopping off in Birmingham on my way to work and taking pictures of the City.  There is a real opportunity to get some pictures of the place and often highlight the lockdown with the lack of people.  Most of the pictures shown have one or two people in them.  They are also bleak.  A solitary Christmas tree stands where the German market used to be.  A lone masked figure walks through China Town. Sunrises on the roof of deserted car parks.  As you look through the places then they will throw up different emotions and thoughts.  It has been difficult for many people and we will remember what this year is like for many years to come.  Meanwhile I sometimes feel guilty being a voyeur using the camera as an indiscrete people watcher.  Recording the events for my own pleasure.  Take a look through these pictures and see what you think.

I will be covering
Central business District / Snow Hill Tram station,
New Street Station/Grand Central
Roof of Snow Hill station
The Arcadian/China Town

Central business District / Snow Hill Tram station

Cornwall street Lockdown#2
Cornwall street Lockdown#2
Church Square Lockdown#2
Church Square Lockdown#2
Lockdown#2

What is eerie about the Lockdown#2 is the lack of people commuting into the city.  This is most evident in the business district.  There are few people on the streets and the offices are empty except for the security people on the front desk.  On a busy morning prelockdown, there would be people striding around the pavements goint to their office workplace.  Coffee shops would be busy, and the train and buses would stop and have to wait for some time to disgorge their passengers. Now it is much quieter. I have my iPhone and Canon 5D.  With the latter, it is big and therefore difficult to hide.  A man with a big camera, is a phrase someone said about me.  I do worry about being mugged for the camera..  The iPhone is fine, but it does try and correct low light settings and I like the control the manual settings give me.  Therefore it is often a mixture of both.

New Street Station/Grand Central

Welcome to New Street
Welcome to New Street
New Street looking empty
New Street looking empty
Around New Street and. feel sorry for the taxi drivers
Around New Street and. feel sorry for the taxi drivers
Annatomix art work graces the entrance to Grand Central
Annatomix art work graces the entrance to Grand Central
A more colourful approach Lockdown#2
New Street Station
New Street Station looking empty.

The station opens many opportunities for photographs but when there are few people around then it is difficult to be inconspicuous with your camera.  Therefore, in the station, I used by iPhone whilst outside my camera felt more comfortable.  The steps up to the station with the mirrored ceiling always create wonderful reflections.  There was a network rail person working occasionally looking out of a small window at the foot of the stairs.  I caught a picture of him although he is a little out of focus.  My nerves on taking the picture!  Hope you enjoy the pictures especially those of my favourite street artist, Annatomix.  A fellow photographer Elliot brown had passed by the day before, so I retraced his steps and found the place deserted.  Pictures that normally had people distracting you were possible.  So taking pictures of Birmingham have been easier under lockdown.

Roof of Snow Hill station

Sunrise roof of Snow Hill Car Park
Sunrise roof of Snow Hill Car Park
The view over Snow Hill platform
The view over Snow Hill platform
Reflections in a puddle of the BT tower
Reflections in a puddle of the BT tower
The moon still over St Paul's Church
The moon still over St Paul’s Church
Looking down Cornwall Street
Looking down Cornwall Street
Light Trails down Edmund Street
Light Trails down Edmund Street

An old favourite – if the weather is good and for this particular morning a great sunrise was on its way.  There was one car parked and the whole place deserted.  The skyscrapers of Snow Hill 1, 2 and 3 lean in over the car park.  It had been raining the night before and there were plenty of puddles for reflections.  It was dawn so you could look down Cornwall street with the pretty lights or down or do the light trials down Edmund street.  Both favourite locations for Birmingham Photographers since the car park was open.  A check on the BT Tower and yes St Paul’s Spire is still there with a full moon overlooking it.  The trains from Kidderminster arrive on their way to London and the Trams move by the Show hill office blocks. 

The Arcadian/China Town

Hurst Street on a rainy morning
Hurst Street on a rainy morning
Streetphotography in Chinatown
Streetphotography in Chinatown
Looking up Hurst Street
Looking up Hurst Street
A wet day in Chinatown
A wet day in Chinatown
These mopeds get everywhere
These mopeds get everywhere

The last morning of Lockdown#2 was a trip to the Arcadian Centre. I did want to see the Christmas tree that had a small cycling tunnel though its centre. When I made my way to the tree which is outside the Hippodrome, I saw that someone was sleeping underneath the tree. Not only that on closer inspection as my pictures show it was a homeless person dependent upon a wheel chair to get around. This shocked me and you may say this is a now a normal occurrence yet when you stumble across it, it still has the power to shock. I moved onto the Arcadian centre and the rain was persistent. The place was very quiet with few people moving around. I knelt down to do some puddle reflection pictures and happened to catch a young lad walking through the Chinatown passageway. The iPhone was all I used as it was so wet. A miserable end to Lockdown#2 but then again what do you expect from the year of 2020.

Homelessness during Lockdown#2
Homelessness during Lockdown#2

If you like these lockdown#2 photographs then the rest of the set are listed below
1. Birmingham Lockdown #2 – a photographic journey of the first morning
2. Birmingham Lockdown #2 – a visit to the Mailbox
3. Birmingham Lockdown #2 – New Street Art in Digbeth

or compare my photographs to those of the BirminghamLive website
Pictured: Eerie Birmingham on the first day of the second national lockdown


New Street Station

It is busy at work and so much of my photography is confined to the walks in town between the train and bus connections early in the morning. Some are in the afternoon depending on the timing. I will usually vary my bus stops so that I can take in different walks. This leads to a variety of photographs. One building that has taken up a prominent feature of the cityscape is the new Primark building. The architecture is a touch brutal and is not an easy place to photograph. Street art is always changing and the David Bowie mural on Dudley St by Annatomix is very distinctive. Her work is always good and there are several murals strategically placed around the city.

Watch that man – artwork by Annatomix
Follow the trail – poster outside Moor Street Station
The entrance to the new Primark Store
The jaunty angle gets the Rotunda into the picture
Link Street with the Rotunda in the background
The curse of the use of mobile phones is everywhere
Looking down Smallbrook Queensway
Framing the BT Tower

I love the colours of a good artistic graffiti painted on a wall or derelict building.  I am not a fan of “tagging” such as scrawling letters or child like drawings scribbled around bridges and walls.  Digbeth in Birmingham is regenerating and the focus is the old Bird’s Custard Factory.  The streets in and around Digbeth are full of clever street art.  Here are a few examples of them.  They have been taken with my Canon, Sony compact or even iPhone.  There is a fish eye lens used in a few of them.  The artists I particularly like are Annatomix and Golden Boy but there are countless others on the scene.  I have included a few here that I took on my early morning walks around Digbeth.

Made in Birmingham – Car Park, Bromley St End

Custard Factory – Floodgate St entrance

Fish eye effect – Floodgate St entrance to Custard Factory

Fish eye effect – Custard Factory

Scary teeth (look like they are lower incisors in the upper jaw) and staring eye – Floodgate Street

Grafitti Map of Digbeth – Little Ann Street

Flying Fish – Meriden Street

Dig those sunglasses

Street Scene, Digbeth with Golden Boy

Golden Boy Details

Custard Factory Graffiti

Four ghost like images and a real human – Custard Factory

Windows and tie – Custard Factory

Digbeth Coach Station Car Park