The post-war redevelopment of Birmingham was a sorry story.
The City Engineer & Surveyor from 1935 to 1963, Sir Herbert Manzoni (1899-1972), notoriously declared in 1957, “I have never been very certain as to the value of tangible links with the past. They are often more sentimental than valuable. In fact, I sometimes deplore the modern tendency to pay exaggerated respect to everything old…
“As to Birmingham’s buildings, there is little of real worth in our architecture. Its replacement should be an improvement, provided we keep a few monuments as museum pieces to past ages. Such buildings as the Town Hall, the Law Courts and a few churches will undoubtedly be retained…As for future generations, I think they will be better occupied in applying their thoughts and energies to forging ahead, rather than looking backward.”
Ironically, much that Manzoni’s generation built in Birmingham in place of Victorian and older buildings is now under threat, but James A Roberts’ Rotunda (1964-5) remains most dominant, memorable and perhaps the most satisfying of the 1960s buildings in the city.
271 feet high from road level, it was designed to provided accommodation for two storeys of shops, three storeys for a bank, one of them the strong room, sixteen office floors and two floors for services, plus a parapet.
The penthouse floor was occupied as offices by the James A Mander Design Group, an architectural practice of which the senior partner was James A Roberts.
Roberts had the satisfaction of seeing his design become the subject of an outcry when it was threatened with demolition in the 1980s. Listed in 2000, it was refurbished as apartments for the developer Urban Splash by Glenn Howells (2004-8).
Not everything that was built in the 1960s was regrettable.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s Birmingham’s Heritage lecture, please click here.