A Birmingham Icon
The Rotunda is a quintessential symbol of Birmingham’s past, present and future. The city’s iconic, landmark presence has graced the skyline since the 1960s. Over the years it has been hailed as a modern-day beacon, a candle in the sky and a giant pill box. However you describe Rotunda, you certainly can’t miss this wonderful sixties’ icon.
Today the 82 metres (266 feet) cylindrical tower is a 20-storey mixed-use development offering both long-term residential apartments, an apartment hotel operated by Staying Cool as well as retail units on the ground floor.
The original architect, James Roberts, designed the building as an office block when it opened in 1965 although he actually lived on the top floor for many years. Its base housed a bank (with vaults) and various shops and leisure outlets. Rotunda’s ground floor formed part of the central open and covered shopping district known as Bullring.
Rotunda has had an eventful history, including an IRA bombing in 1974 and the threat of demolition in 1993. It was saved by English Heritage and given a Grade II building listed status in 2000. It sat empty for a few years until the Birmingham Alliance – owners of the Bullring Estate – approached the innovative Manchester-based developers, Urban Splash, in 2004.
Multi-award winning developers, Urban Splash, were chosen because of their reputation as pioneers in urban regeneration and advocates of modern design.
Urban Splash appointed another award-winning company, this time Birmingham-based Glenn Howells Architects to design the new look Rotunda.
The two companies had worked together in Manchester and Birmingham-based Glenn only has to look out of his office window to see Rotunda, clearly visible against the skyline.
Work started on site in 2005 and it took approximately two and a half years to lovingly restore the building. Glenn Howells collaborated with Jim Roberts, Rotunda’s original architect, throughout the redevelopment. In reinventing the building, the cylindrical tower’s proportions and simple form have been retained, honouring the original vision. Indeed Jim Roberts envisaged having floor-to-ceiling windows in the original design but these were replaced with half windows due to budget constraints. The current building not only has floor-to-ceiling windows but it has ones that open fully like French windows with Juliet balconies (plus wraparound balconies on the top floor).
Testament to the status of the building was the three-hour sales frenzy in 2005 when every residential apartment was sold. Allocated on a first come first served basis, the queue of potential buyers stretched around the building. Many people slept out overnight in a bid to snap up a piece of the famous landmark beneath the Staying Cool Apartment Hotel.
There are now 234 apartments in total, including studios, one and two-bed apartments, duplexes and penthouses.
Reinvented, rejuvenated and reconfigured, Rotunda is once again a beacon for the city and completes the Bullring jigsaw. It is still located within the heart of the shopping centre and has a Zara womenswear store in its basement and Selfridges as it's corner shop.
The cylindrical icon is equidistant between the two main train stations and just three minutes on foot – Birmingham New Street and Moor Street which serve London, the airport (just ten minutes away), the NEC, Bicester Village and indeed the rest of the United Kingdom. HS2, when it opens in 2028, will be less than a two-minute walk away.
Visitors to the city – or indeed locals – can stay the night in the Staying Cool operated Rotunda apartment hotel located on floors 16-20 or on level two for those people who don’t like heights. Rates range from £99 to £750 per night in studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments plus penthouses and duplexes.