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
The Ringway Centre, Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham October 2023

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

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.

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

“Go West – Life is Peaceful there”.  The song from the Pet Shop Boys inspires this posting.

I set off walking to the Birmingham Peace Gardens from Moor St.  My fist photographic stop was along Smallbrook Queensway where I took pictures of the early morning commuters.  I moved onto Holloway Circus to take pictures of the Chinese Pagoda juxtaposed against the Raddison Blu Hotel.  Next I headed West on Bath Row to the Birmingham Peace Gardens.  This is a lovely tranquil spot but in dire need of some investment to bring it back up to its former glory.  Its full name is St Thomas’ Peace Garden.  It was one of many “Waterloo” commemorative churches built after the Battle of Waterloo.  It was partially destroyed in the WWII blitz on the city and never rebuilt. The remains of the Church and the area around have been made into a remembrance garden.  It is very peaceful there and on this particular morning no-one else was about.  I spent time taking photographs and when finished moved onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal which is nearby.  Here the canal landscape is dominated by the Cube, a futuristic building which is a mix of offices, residential flats, restaurants and a hotel.  It also makes for a good backdrop for photographs.  I had both my Sony and the Canon 5d with the 24-70mm lens with me.  There are a few close ups, low down shots and looking up pictures as I try to vary the point of view.  Always learning! and such walks are chance to relax and try new techniques.

“Go West, this is what we’re gonna do, Go West” – Pet shop Boys

A lone early morning commuter

Beetham Tower amongst the sharp angles of the surrounding architecture

Chinese Pagoda close up

Tropical look to Beethan Tower


The Pagoda flanked by high rise council blocks

View down Smallbrook Queensway (although there are plans to change this)

Bath row looking towards Smalbrook Queensway

Entrance to Birmingham Peace Garden

An elephant and dove – in need of paint

The remains of St Thomas’ Church

St Thomas’ Church

May peace prevail on Earth

Another view of the Church and the surrounding garden

One of many commemorative plaques around the site

Peaceful view of the canal

the Cube overlooking the canal

Cube reflections

Diving Sculpture against the Cube

A low down view of commuters along the Worcester and Birmingham canal.