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birmingham brutalism

Sadly, our city has lost some of its Brutalist Brummie buildings. With its simple, block-like forms and use of raw concrete, Brutalism is the Marmite of architectural styles. We are definitely on the ‘love Brutalism’ side and we celebrate what’s left and those consigned to history.


the best of those left


1. Rotunda

150 New Street, Birmingham B2 4PA

Brutalist buildings in Birmingham. The Rotunda by Staying Cool serviced apartments
Rotunda after its 2008 transformation from office space to residential

We have to talk about Birmingham’s Brutalist Rotunda building first as our Birmingham apartment hotel is at the top of it. We never tire of this unique, cylindrical building with its concrete core and flooring. Just as Le Corbusier designed his Unité d’habitation in Marseilles to combine long-term residents with overnight visitors, you can book into this Brutalist residential skyscraper for just the night with Staying Cool.

The 1960s building – originally designed by James A.Roberts Associates as office space – was threatened with demolition in the 1980s. However, the building was saved thanks to a public campaign. It achieved Grade II listed status in 2000 and was redeveloped from office space to residential apartments by Urban Splash and Glenn Howells Architects. They worked on this with Jim Roberts, the original architect. Birmingham’s Rotunda reopened in 2008. We have 35 serviced apartments on the top floors ranging from studios to 5* penthouse apartments.  

Jim Roberts died in 2019 at the age of 97 and Glenn Howells wrote his obituary for the Architects’ Journal.   

Photograph covering entire wall at Rotunda showing concrete floors during 2008 refurbishment
Photograph covering entire wall at Rotunda showing concrete floors during 2008 refurbishment
Brutlist Birmingham. The plinth of the Rotunda building by Staying Cool serviced apartments
Rotunda’s plinth

2. New Street Signal Box

Navigation Street, Birmingham B5 4AD

Print of the New Street Signal Box available from Space Play
Print of the Signal Box available from Space.Play

This Brutalist power signal box was part of the 1960s rebuild of Birmingham’s 1850s New Street Station. The corrugated concrete design of the signal box has really stood the test the time.

The building was decommissioned in December 2022, bringing to an end 57 years of controlling millions of trains arriving at and departing from New Street station.

Network Rail says the building could now potentially be used for training rooms on the signalling floor and the relay room. The lower floors already house maintenance teams so it will remain a working Network Rail building and in use.

It was designed by Bicknell & Hamilton and W.R. Healey and Grade II listed in 1995. Architect Paul Hamilton (born Paul Herschan) fled Nazi Germany as a boy on the Kindertransport. Hamilton later fought for Britain in the Intelligence section of the Parachute Regiment. A fascinating man.



3. Ringway Centre

Smallbrook Queensway, Birmingham B1 1BA

Detail of  Smallbrook Queensway Credit: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA]
Detail of SBQ Credit: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA]

The Ringway Centre or SBQ was designed by the Rotunda’s architect, James Roberts. The aim was to replace buildings that had largely been destroyed during WWII in air raids.

The sweeping structure continues to spark debate about its future. In 2016, it was refused listed status by Historic England and is now undergoing partial demolition and recladding. This hasn’t been welcomed by admirers of the building.

Hybrid plans have been submitted to transform the Queensway into a mixed-use development with up to 1,750 homes. The proposals could see three buildings of 44, 48 and 56 storeys which could also feature food and drink venues and a nightclub. The plans for the redevelopment come further to a planning application which was submitted in 2017 for the creation of a 26-storey residential tower, which spanned the length of Smallbrook Queensway.

Birmingham organisations Birmingham Modernist Society, Brutiful Birmingham and Zero Carbon House have set out an alternative vision for Smallbrook Queensway, supported by conservation group the Twentieth Century Society. The plan raises the possibility of retrofitting – rather than flattening – the building.

The architect Joe Holyoke described the SBQ as, “..a grand and elegant urban gesture.” Holyoke continued, “Its curvature on plan and sweeping horizontal lines, its rhythm of vertical fins, together with its characteristic projecting concrete uplighters, make it still the most impressive piece of modern streetscape in the city, even 54 years after its completion.”

You can see the sweep of SBQ on the right in the video below (1965).  



4. Quayside Tower

Broad Street, Birmingham B1 2HF

Quayside Tower mural by William Mitchell (1965) Credit: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA]

Detail from Quayside Tower mural by William Mitchell (1965) Credit: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA]

Like Rotunda, Quayside Tower is a refurbished Brutalist design in Brum. It was built in 1965 to a design by John Madin. Madin was one of Birmingham’s major architects in the post-war period. He designed the Birmingham Post and Mail, the Chamber of Commerce, the Central Library and BBC Pebble Mill. 

Quayside Tower was refurbished in 2003 and a new roof feature was part of this, changing the top of the structure. However, 20 abstract concrete reliefs on the building’s podium by artist William Mitchell remain untouched.



5. Muirhead Tower

University of Birmingham, Edgbaston B15 2TN

Muirhead Tower by Gavin Warrins

Image by Gavin Warrins

Birmingham University’s Muirhead Tower was built in 1971 to a design by Sir Philip Dawson, a founding partner of the mighty Arup. Birmingham University spent £42m between 2007-2009 on refurbishing this striking campus building.



the forgotten gems


Birmingham Central Library

Birmingham Central Library Credit: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA]
Birmingham Central Library. Credit: Bs0u10e01 [CC BY-SA]

Birmingham’s Central Library was demolished in 2013 to make way for a major development between Birmingham’s two major pedestrianised squares. English Heritage applied for listed status for Birmingham Central Library twice, but each bid failed.

Opened in 1974, the library was designed by John Madin. The library’s inverted ziggurat form made it one of Birmingham’s most distinctive buildings, but the building was originally designed to be clad in white marble.

The building’s replacement – The Library of Birmingham – is in a different location in Centenary Square. It was designed by Dutch firm Mecanoo and very well received. Many of the Mecaanoo team stayed with us at Rotunda during the project.   

Birmingham’s Central Library was demolished in 2013 to make way for a major development between Birmingham’s two major pedestrianised squares. English Heritage applied for listed status for Birmingham Central Library twice, but each bid failed.

You can see some of the Central Library’s ziggurat form in some of the images we have on the walls in our Birmingham serviced apartments at Rotunda. The photograph in this blog was taken in 2008.


The Post and Mail

Birmingham Post and Mail building in central Birmingham
Credit: Erebus555 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA]

The Post and Mail by John Madin used a rich array of materials. It was clad in aluminium and the interior made use of granite and marble. The Post and Mail had listed status turned down twice. The staff of the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail moved out to Fort Dunlop in 2008 and this Brutalist building made way for an underground car park and office blocks.


NatWest Tower

brutalist designed building in Birmingham
Credit: Elliott Brown

The NatWest Tower was designed by John Madin in the 1970s. At 23 storeys, it was the tallest structure in the Colmore Row Conservation Area, but it never achieved full occupancy. The NatWest Tower was down by 2017. 103 Colmore Row, which is Birmingham’s tallest office building replaces the tower.

Architectural critic Andy Foster described the building as being “the most important Brutalist commercial building in the city, disastrous in context but with its own tremendous integrity”. Only the NatWest Tower’s distinctive, cast-aluminium banking hall doors have been incorporated into the new tower, as an artwork in the entrance to Orelle restaurant.



1960s Bullring

Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre was truly cutting edge as it was the first indoor shopping centre in the UK. That seems hard to believe now as shopping centres have become part of the fabric of our cities. The Bullring’s lead architect was Jim Roberts.

In 2000, the original Bullring finally met its Waterloo. The new Bullring opened in 2003 and it includes the futuristic Selfridges Birmingham, which has a curved form clad in 15,000 aluminium disks.

Exterior of Selfridges Birmingham showing curve of building and some of the 15,000 aluminium disks that clad the building.
Selfridges Birmingham


Birmingham Brutalism In Art

Birmingham is a really creative city. We’re lucky to have some companies who really celebrate Birmingham’s architecture.

Space Play

Space Play are full-on Brutalist obsessives. They produce prints, concrete casts and Top Trump sets of Birmingham’s Brutalist buildings. They’ve expanded to cover London and the rest of the UK too.

Brutalism Birmingham. Space Play Brutalist casts
Available from Space.Play

Made on the canal

Thomas Parry (aka Made On The Canal) is an architectural illustrator based in Birmingham. Thomas doesn’t exclusively capture Brutalist buildings in Birmingham, but you can buy wonderful prints of the NatWest Tower, Muirhead Tower and New Street Station Box from him.

Brutalism Birmingham.  Muirhead Tower print by Made On The Canal
Muirhead Tower by Made On The Canal


Lastly, we bring you Brumhaus. They make Modernist inspired art created in Birmingham and often featuring our Rotunda HQ.

Brumhaus Graphicity print
Graphicity by Brumhaus


Living brutalism

We’d love you to come and stay with us at the top of Rotunda and be inspired by this icon of Brutalism. We are right in the centre of Birmingham, which makes it easy to pay homage to all of these landmarks as well as explore this hugely-creative city. The interiors of our serviced apartments celebrate the 1960s heritage of the building in a cool way. Book a Roadster penthouse, two-bed Maxi, one-bed Clubman or Mini Studio here online.

Receive a complimentary bottle of wine on arrival using the booking code BRUTAL20.

Entrance to Rotunda Birmingham
Entrance to Rotunda
Brutalism Birmingham. Interior of Staying Cool serviced apartment.
Interior of Staying Cool Clubman apartment