Buildings – Out with the Old and in with the New (Street!)
A slight step back from the norm today, as I want to take a moment to look at the way construction shapes the world around us.
Buildings should be functional, yes, but they can be far more than that. They change the way we feel, the way we behave and the way the world perceives us.
A great example for me is Birmingham New Street Station, in the heart of the Midlands. The busiest station outside London and a hub for the whole of the country, historically this was a dark, claustrophobic and rather unwelcoming place in my opinion. Functional at best, thoroughly depressing at worst. This is how Birmingham New Street station looked until it was completely redeveloped…….
This was a station I regularly passed through, quickly. It did nothing to improve my day or my mood. I wanted to spend as little time there as possible.
Then the radical decision was made to carry out a huge 5 year £750m redevelopment of the station and the creation of the Grand Central shopping centre and restaurants/cafes. This included the removal of 6,000 tonnes of concrete, creating vast open expanses where once there were tight dimly lit corridors and confined spaces. The roof was completely replaced to create a vast source of natural light where once there was concrete, unwelcoming fluorescent tube lighting and dark thoroughfares.
So, what does the station look like now…….?
Now a vibrant destination. I arrive early for my train with the knowledge that I can enjoy a nice breakfast in wonderful surroundings. I may even wait for a later train instead, so that I have longer to experience the building and the environment as a whole.
So what does this teach us?
Buildings change attitudes. The smiles and sociable nature that this station brings out in commuters are tangible. People are friendlier.
I certainly feel far safer catching a late night train than I ever did at the old station. The community has embraced the building and it shows. They expect 50m visitors a year to this station and I can see why.
So, buildings are functional. But they can be so much more. They are the environment in which we spend much of our lives. Hats off to Birmingham for this wonderful building.