Brutalist Birmingham


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With sexy new buildings popping up all the time, Birmingham is shedding its reputation as one of Europe’s drabbest cities. But there are still a few mingers around – Birmingham New Street Signal Box take a bow.

Slap-bang in the centre of England’s second city, on the corner of Navigation Street and Brunel Street, you will struggle to find an uglier building. Birmingham New Street Station’s signal box is a masterpiece of brutalist architecture.

Seen below with the swanky Mailbox development in the background, this 1960s-built monstrosity houses a functioning signal box, needed to co-ordinate the comings and goings at one of the UK’s busiest train stations.

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Its corrugated concrete design is sure to depress anyone who walks past. It’s a major reason why Birmingham is still seen by many as an ugly city, especially on a grey day such as the one when I took these photographs of it.

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And being a Grade II listed building, it won’t be going away or changing its appearance anytime soon, even though New Street Station is undergoing a multi-million pound redevelopment to finally bring it into the 21st century.

Here are some photos of more brutalist buildings in Birmingham:

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If you’re thinking Birmingham looks a really grim place, have a read of my previous blog post Top 5 iconic Birmingham buildings to restore your faith in our second city.

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Categories: UK and IrelandTags: ,

36 comments

  1. I think you are being a tad harsh in Birmingham over the new signal box, I think to be generous it could be called “functional” But lets not lose site of the strides Birmingham has made in the last 25 years and it still has the best concert hall in the UK thanks to Simon Rattle and Birmingham City Council (and it’s not often you hear the City Council coming in for praise!)

  2. Definitely sexy buildings. Very impessive

  3. The brutalist buildings are the very reason for me wanting to see the city! I have a soft spot for this type of architecture. I especially love Trellick Towers in London. Granted these are certainly not the most beautiful buildings in the world but I find them very intriguing and so matter of fact.

  4. Here in Liverpool we are spoilt by our architecture. But there are still plenty of carbuncles to rival Birmingham

  5. I have to admit, this is exactly what comes to mind when I think of Birmingham.

    • True, it’s not going to win any awards…

      • I thought it had won the prize as Brum’s ugliest building ? Didn’t it get another when the cleaned it – Brum’s cleanest ugliest building ?
        Maybe the reason it’s nuclear-proof is that it has a reactor inside? Duddeston Viaduct – for the railway is an interesting pile of unused bricks.

  6. I’m with you on that one – definitely a minger…

  7. I kinda like it! I quite like the corrugated concrete. It seems unique, but I suppose if you have to see it everyday and live with it then it could be depressing. I also like the Trellick Towers in London!

  8. You nearly managed to put me off πŸ™‚ Good job I’d read the other post.

  9. A lot of the architecture is nightmarish, but I have to say I’m a fan of the signal box – it’s pretty unique!

  10. I quite like the signal box! A serious, brooding building with a serious job to do!
    It always reminds me I’m almost home too πŸ™‚

  11. I have never been to Birmingham and would have said it is not the best of cities, but then I looked at your earlier post with the iconic buildings. However, I would agree with you that the box building does not look very pretty (maybe I would change my mind if I saw it?)

  12. I grew up not far from Birmingham in the 1970s, and I can assure you there were many more ugly buildings like this in those days!

  13. I was there in 2000, and I remember the city as very grey and dull. Good to hear it’s losing that image and changing!

  14. I believe the Signal Box is so designed to make it nuclear bomb proof. If you want to see the brutalist designed Central Library, you better go now, because it is about to be knocked down in the next few weeks.

  15. I don’t know what to say, I am amazed you think this is ugly! The signal box is a fabulously bold bit of architecture. This is one of Birmingham’s many quirky gems, treasure it before the developers bulldoze it as they are with the Central Library (another gem). This, like the Central Library, are victims of the hideous 80’s developments that suffocate them.

    • P.S. Just reading some of the other comments. I used to think Birmingham was an ugly city too but not anymore. If you open your eyes to it’s quirky charms you will fall in love with it very quickly (plus the Birmingham people are lovely – and no I am not from Birmingham)

      • I like the city too, agree the signal box is quirky but I still think it’s ugly and it depresses me! As it’s a listed building it shouldn’t go the same way as the library so I might as well get used to it.

  16. As one brutalist building (central library) is demolished a new one gets the go ahead. The Birmingham Conservatoire has received permission to build a replacement for their present home at Paradise Forum. The building has been likened to an OXO cube or a cheese grater and is to be built near Millenium Point in the east side. Few windows and stark design, the building has won little praise from the public but the music school and council love it. Check out Birmingham Conservatoire on Google for pictures

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