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The changing face of Birmingham


Today Birmingham is one of the top cities in the world; attracting over 34million visitors a year[1] and named the UK’s most entrepreneurial city outside of London[2]. But turn the clock back 50 years and it was a very different story. 1960s Birmingham was known as a concrete jungle thanks to the mass of 60s style buildings and tangle of ring roads. So what changed? How does a city go from being undesirable to a world class destination in 50 years?

The short answer is that investors, developers and the city council recognised the potential of the city and decided to do something about it. That’s not to say that everything went smoothly from there, the concrete legacy of the 1960s was not an easy one to shake. The first Bullring shopping centre is a prime example of that. An ugly, unappealing building surrounded by roads, the centre failed to maintain both tenants and customers and despite initial success it was deemed to be an unfortunate and misjudged investment. Despite the redevelopment of New Street Station adjacent to it, 1960s Bullring was not a popular destination.


It wasn’t until the end of the 20th Century that developers began to realise how powerful placemaking could be in recreating and re-establishing city centres. Placemaking is the approach to planning, developing and managing public spaces that is centred around the local community’s assets, inspiration and potential. When buildings and spaces become desirable places, they take on identities of their own.

It was with this concept in mind that Hammerson redeveloped Bullring. As old streets, buildings and canals were restored in Birmingham, a new shopping centre was built that was to be a fundamental part of the powerful new city, bringing together traditional market activity and modern retail units.

In 2003 Bullring as we now know it opened its doors to the public, drawing crowds of nearly 300,000 people on its first day. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, attracting retailers and shoppers from across the world and supporting Birmingham’s dynamic culture.

Bullring is a place that is widely acknowledged for its iconic status. The Selfridges building was inspired by a Paco Robanne sequinned dress and is made up of 15,000 reflective aluminium discs on a sheer cobalt blue skin. The Selfridges store and it’s design led Lucia van der Post to write in The Times that Selfridges “makes a trip to Birmingham seem like the must-have treat of the year.”

The bronze bull, The Guardian, was designed by Laurence Broderick and has been named as one of the world’s top public works of art in addition to being the third most photographed landmark in Britain.


Today, 36 million visitors flock to Bullring every year not only for the architecture and range of shops and restaurants, but also because over the years the shopping centre has become a venue in its own right. Events held there range from student sessions to live fashion shows and, most recently, the Disco Bull Head. Created by American artist Josh Harker, the Disco Bull Head was a 16 ft. steel pipe sculpture which came alive every night over two weeks. The theme for the show was the rebirth and growth of Birmingham, and each show was accompanied by local music, dance and cultural groups. Close to two million people visited Bullring to watch the incredible light show for free, a huge success celebrating the city’s rich culture.

The city continues to evolve with the development of Spiceal street bringing a new range of restaurants to St. Martin’s Square and the reopening of the Grand Central shopping centre only last year. Built over New Street Station, Grand Central has long been in need of a facelift to keep up with its neighbour and the developers have not disappointed. With a flagship John Lewis and a host of exciting new brands in a huge, light space, the development has brought further life to the thriving city, and we are excited to be adding the asset to our portfolio. Combined with the redeveloped station, Grand Central is perfectly placed to act as a ‘gateway’ to the heart of the city with expected footfall of 55 million passengers per annum.

Birmingham’s transformation over the last 50 years is extraordinary, and both Bullring and Grand Central have become emblematic of the city’s new status. It is now the only city outside of London to boast the ‘big six’ leading department stores and as further investment pours in, we will see Birmingham continue to go from strength to strength.


[1] Source: http://www.marketingbirmingham.com/news/birmingham-visitor-figures-hit-record-high/

Marketing Birmingham’s research arm the Regional Observatory and tourism research body, Global Tourism Solutions.