Tom Grunt

Passion Points: 1730

Construction & regeneration
03 Jun 2019 - Tom Grunt
News & Updates

“Unity, coherence and uniqueness” - that's Birmingham's new Centenary Square!

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Work is nearing completion at Birmingham’s Centenary Square. Take this post by Tom Grunt for a latest update, with a gallery of artists impressions from Graeme Massie.


Introduction and Background

In 2014, Birmingham City Council announced, with the help of RIBA, an international competition to find a new design for the tired and, soke would say, unattractive Centenary Square.

An overwhelming 200 entries from across the world were received, of which 5 were shortlisted. The five designs were presented to the public, and to the jury panel.

Graeme Massie Architects were announced to have won in June 2015.


The area has been a major public space since the 1920s, but was hit hard, like many parts of Birmingham by the maniacal destruction (read redevelopment) of the post war years.

The creation of the inner ring road in the sixties cut the square off from the rest of the city centre. This was partially corrected in 1989 when the square was given a new lease of life, with a footbridge linking Paradise Forum being built.

The square has been the subject of several different proposals since 1918. The first of which was refused by the government as being ‘too ambitious for a provincial town’, as it included a formal garden, new cathedral, municipal offices and exhibition halls among others.

This wasn’t the last time the government stepped in when we were apparently ‘too ambitious’.

A more modest proposal was later adopted, and even that had only a fraction of it already built including Baskerville House and Hall of Memory, both listed buildings standing there to this day.

The square was given the name Centenary in 1989 to commemorate 100 years since Birmingham was granted city status.

Brand new paving was created by Tess Jaray made to look like a brick carpet and a new fountain called ‘The Spirit Of Enterprise’ was created by Tom Lomax, both of which have now been removed.

Ironically, it wasn’t until the completion of the new Library of Birmingham in 2013 when the ‘brick carpet’ by Tess Jaray could be properly appreciated from the Library’s terrace.

2019 - The New Design

Hall of Columns

The design of the square is unlike any other. The most distinctive and radical feature is the ‘Hall of Columns’, which is a grid of 43 slender columns, each 25 metres tall and poke above the Library terrace level.

Thanks to the columns the square has a three-dimensional feel, to sit within a defined area with a light granite surface and have point lights at the very tip, creating a fantastic ‘constellation of lights’ at night.

They extend to the other side of Broad Street, with one row being located on the pavement right outside HSBC and Municipal Bank, while another row is right in the middle of soon-to-be Broad Street tram corridor.

“Unity, coherence and uniqueness”

This gives the whole area a sense of unity, coherence and uniqueness, a sense of it being one great civic space for everyone to enjoy, and one that sets Birmingham apart from every other city in Britain.

Water Features and Greenery

Next to the Symphony Hall and opposite The Rep theatre, there is a large reflection pool, with three rows of water jets for children, animals and adults alike to play with in the summer.

The pool can be drained when large scale events take place on the square.  With a number of places to sit, formally or informally,  and benches acting as a security barrier, the area will become a destination in itself.

What I really love about the new square is the trees. There are lot of them!

They are arranged in groves, and these form a series of pocket parks across the square, with benches placed in or around them. Each grove is formed of a single species, bringing a unique atmosphere and colour to its part of the square.

These species include Birch, Maple, Gingko and Flowering Cherry, Plane.

The birches form a screen along the western side of the square, acting as a visual and acoustic barrier to Paradise Circus Queensway. 21 of these extend all the way towards Baskerville House.

Below, tall grasses and herbaceous perennials will be planted, creating a sort of an urban meadow, which will be illuminated at night.

A grove of fourteen Maple trees are being planted adjacent to Broad Street and the Hall of Memory. These will turn bright red in Autumn, fantastically contrasting with the twelve yellow coloured leaves of Ginkgo trees located outside The Rep Theatre, together giving the square a beautifully autumnal feel.

Perennial plants such as ferns and seasonal flowering plants will be planted beneath the maples as well as the Ginkgo trees. The Ginkgo grove will have a long continuous bench all around it and clearings inside with informal benches.

Outside of Symphony Hall will be a cherry orchard, a group of twelve mature Yoshino trees arranged within a formal grid, with a beautiful white blossom in early Spring, and green to yellow in Autumn, brilliantly contrasting with the red Maples and yellow Gingko trees.

The canopies of these Cherries will be lit during the night and three granite benches are placed beneath them.

Public Art

All the public artwork taken away and put into storage before the revamp of the square began, are set to return to the square, although some will be located elsewhere.

The ‘Golden Boys’ statue of Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch, will be placed against the backdrop of the Cherry Orchard, near Symphony Hall.

The statue of King Edward VII will remain in its place, while the ‘Industry and Genius’ sculpture is going to be moved closer to the Baskerville House and made symmetrical to its entrance.

A ‘Real Birmingham Family’ statue will be relocated next to the Ginkgo trees grove.


The number of alterations to the square, and its vicinity over the years have fragmented the square, making it tired, unattractive and illegible.

This development is a vital cog in the ongoing regeneration and resurrection of Birmingham as a major international centre of culture, which fits with the Big City Plan.

The square will become the centrepiece of the Westside district of the city centre and become a public space of international significance, capable of hosting large events.

But not only that, people will come to the square and be attracted with the cultural offerings within the area. It’ll become a place to meet, socialise and stay, rather than merely pass through.

Tomas Grunt


All the following artist impressions are courtesy of Graeme Massie Architects

Graeme Massie Architects

Graeme Massie Architects

Graeme Massie Architects

Graeme Massie Architects

Graeme Massie Architects


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100 passion points
Construction & regeneration
10 May 2019 - Tom Grunt
News & Updates

Timber Yard, Birmingham, UK - latest update

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Work has commenced on the build of Timber Yard, a residential scheme in the Southside area of Birmingham.  

Take the post for more on this build.


Timber Yard is a residential scheme in the Southside area of Birmingham designed by Claridge Architects.

It is one of several projects brought forward by joint-venture developers Apsley House Capital and Galliard Homes, and the first one to have reached a construction stage.

The project includes 379 apartments spread across two buildings ranging from 7 to 14 storeys, lots of private and public green space, plenty of ground floor commercial space, private gym for residents, concierge, cinema and 95 car park spaces.

There’s going to be 10 commercial units for shops and restaurants on the ground floor and all located on Skinner Lane. These will benefit from a number of bespoke, timber benches placed along this street.

A planning application was submitted in November 2017 with approval granted in October 2018. There was a brief delay in approving the scheme as objections were raised by local club owners, who feared that presence of apartments in immediate vicinity of their clubs could lead to noise complaints from future residents, which in turn could lead to the clubs being forced to close.

Following these complaints, the developer held a meeting with the club owners and reassured them that all the bedroom windows would be sufficiently sound-proofed.

Architecture & Massing

One of the scheme’s objectives is to restore the urban grain in the area, as the plot has been nothing but a surface car park since the 70s which has had a negative visual impact on the landscape.

The density of this scheme is in keeping with buildings around it and also takes into account future projects, namely Smithfield.

The development acts as a transition between Smithfield and other residential builds to the west and north.

The city planners weren’t supportive of the originally proposed 19-storey building at the corner of Pershore Street and Skinner Lane and so the height was reduced to 14-storeys, only as tall as necessary to mark the corner.

The design directly reflects the area’s context, with the most used material in the area being red and brown brick, hence why brick has been chosen for this development, albeit of a slightly different colour.

The brick chosen is somewhat paler and has a more contemporary feel, but compliments its surroundings.

The site is bounded by four streets, and the composition of façade differs to an extent on each of the streets to reflect the immediate vicinity. For example, because Hurst Street is quite a narrow road with high pedestrian footfall and a lot of shops, it felt appropriate that the façade facing this road should assume a more vertical expression.

On the other hand, blocks facing Skinner Lane and Pershore Street have façades with wider openings and horizontal expressions as the roads are wider and are not major pedestrian routes.

Public Space & Greenery

The block breaks up in two places which allows for creation of two public pocket parks, one on Skinner Lane and one on Claybrook Street.

There’s a large communal private garden in the courtyard on which grass, fern, shrubs and trees will be planted in an informal arrangement. A pedestrian route with benches will run through the garden, and give off a light woodland feel.

Further greenery is going to be created along Claybrook Street with a wide planting strip created running along the full length of the street and varieties of indigenous wild flowers will be planted on the roof to create bio-diverse gardens.

It is one of the first pieces of puzzle in the continuous regeneration of this part of Birmingham, with a number of other schemes underway or proposed.

Tomas Grunt

Artist impression by Claridge Architects

Artist impression by Claridge Architects

Artist impression by Claridge Architects

Artist impression by Claridge Architects

Artist impression by Claridge Architects

Artist impression by Claridge Architects

Artist impression by Claridge Architects

Photo by Stephen Giles

Photo by Stephen Giles

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40 passion points
Construction & regeneration
26 Apr 2019 - Tom Grunt
News & Updates

Play, Relaxation and Recreation at Connaught Square - a huge regeneration scheme in Digbeth, Birmingham

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Connaught Square is one of the largest and most important regeneration schemes Birmingham has seen in decades. 

Take the full article produced by Tomas Grunt, one of Birmingham's People with Passion for construction and find out more about this amazing development. Artist's impressions by K4 Architects.


Connaught Square lies opposite Birmingham Coach Station and stretches all the way to the Irish Centre, which was originally part of the scheme. However the scheme now stops just short of it, although we may see a proposal to develop that land in the future.

Artist's Impression by K4 Architects

This residential-led scheme comprises 770 apartments with retail and commercial space at just over 4,000 sq. m. There will be a total of 105 car park spaces and 656 secure cycle parking spaces. The most eye-catching aspect of this proposal is a plan to bring river Rea up to the surface. In this area, the river currently runs underground.

The site was originally going to be developed in the late 2000s with planning permission for a large mixed-use scheme granted in 2007. That scheme had consisted of 700 residential units, similarly to the current proposal, and had also included a 4* hotel and a skybar. Because of the financial crisis the developer went bankrupt, and the scheme failed to materialize alongside a number of other projects across the city.

The current scheme first saw the light of day in November 2015 when the Birmingham based developer Seven Capital began pre-application discussions with Birmingham City Council and eventually lodged a planning application in September 2016.

Seven Capital’s initial proposal consisted of 940 residential units spread across 5 buildings ranging from 5 to 18 storeys and almost 6,000 sq.m of retail and commercial space.

In the period between the lodging of application in September 2016 and the application being finally approved early 2019 there was an extensive liaison between Seven Capital, Birmingham City Council and several agencies such as the Environment Agency and Lead Local Flood Authority.

Some of the major concerns included massing, layout, mix of residential units and concerns of ecological and environmental nature in respect of the River Rea.

The Council didn’t like the mix of residential units which favoured 1-bedroom apartments, so to make it family friendly, a higher amount of 2 and 3 bedroom apartments was demanded.

Another thing the Council was adamant about was pedestrian permeability and the quality of public space.

The footprint of buildings 3 and 4 was significantly reduced which created a new public route between the river and Stone Yard, in addition the scheme now had just 4 instead of the original 5 buildings, which aided pedestrian permeability.

To make the scheme more in line with the urban landscape around it, the height of the houses was reduced by 1 storey, while the height of the tower was increased from 18 to 28 storeys to make it appear slender, and portland stone was chosen as a cladding material to make the tower stand out, as according to the council, the initial design was grey and dull.  

The Council also asked if the John F. Kennedy mosaic mural could be moved from its current location on Floodgate Street and make it part of the scheme to which the applicant agreed.

One of the scheme’s great family-oriented features is the inclusion of major roof gardens on 3 out of 4 buildings and 6 minor gardens on all 4 buildings. Each major garden is split into 3 zones; the zones being ‘Play’, ‘Recreation’ and ‘Relaxation’. The Play Area is designed for children of all ages and supports healthy child development, the Recreation Area is for sports and exercise while the Relaxation Area is a quieter and sheltered space. The zones are connected by a network of footpaths.

Artist's Impression by K4 Architects

What makes this scheme unique is the River Rea and the green and public space around it. The river will be brought up to surface and its banks widened, creating ‘floodable terraces’ for increased flood protection. The floodable terracing will make the scheme look and feel much greener, natural and wider. The applicant is looking to plant native trees and shrubs which will form green habitats. It is the applicant’s ambition that the widened river channel will become a protected habitat zone.

Artist's impression by K4 Architects

The scheme has been designed by Digbeth based K4 Architects. After the extensive liaison between the applicant, Birmingham City Council and the various agencies, the scheme was finally approved in January 2019 and the construction is scheduled to start in the summer 2019. The development will be delivered in two phases and Phase 1 including the tower is expected to be completed in March 2022 and Phase 2 in August 2023.

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