Whilst the foreground today is totally unrecognisable from the 1978 postcard view above following the redevelopment of the Bull Ring Shopping Centre completed in 2003, the iconic Rotunda dominates the skyline to this day with its unique cylindrical construction proving one of, if not the only, enduring remnants of the 1960s redevelopment of the City.
Designed as commercial premises by James A. Roberts (to resemble a candle!) as part of the wider development of the Bull Ring Centre, the Rotunda was completed in 1965 comprising 25 floors of office space sitting on a podium housing Lloyds Bank and below that various retail units and the Mulberry Bush public House at ground level to the rear on St Martin’s Circus Queensway.
Whilst many of the structures built during the 1960s in Birmingham have been much derided for their brutal and less than aesthetically-pleasing architecture (including others designed by Roberts), over the years the Rotunda has been extensively used for promotional purposes and has come to somewhat symbolise Birmingham to such an extent that when plans were mooted to demolish the Rotunda ahead of the redevelopment of the Bull Ring Shopping Centre, a campaign to save the structure resulted in it attaining Grade II listed status in 2000; quite an achievement for a 265ft-high 1960s reinforced concrete tower block.
The Rotunda, however, hasn’t remained in situ unscathed over the decades. During 1974 the IRA planted a bomb in the Mulberry Bush public house, latterly renamed Bar St Martin, at the base of the structure killing 21 people which further cemented the structure in the history of the City and whilst causing considerable damage to the pub and shattering an extensive number of windows in the tower above, did not structurally dame the tower’s concrete core (from which the building derives its strength).
During the demolition and redevelopment of the Bull Ring Shopping Centre (subsequently Bullring) by then-owners London and Edinburgh Trust, begun in 2000, property development company Urban Splash submitted plansfor a change of use of the Rotunda from commercial to residential premises. Occupancy, or lack thereof, had always been an issue with the Rotunda as commercial premises and the proposal was accepted with work beginning on the £25m refurbishment in 2004 (the original construction of the Rotunda having cost £1m – equivalent to c£20m today). The refurbishment was finally completed in 2008 with the tower housing 234 (predominantly wedge-shaped) apartments and featuring a more high-tech glass-fronted facade.
Whilst my initial thoughts on the original proposal to convert the Rotunda to residental dwellings was ‘how on Earth will residents find furniture to fit a curved wall?’, I have to say that Urban Splash have done an exceptional job of sympathetically rejuvinating the exterior and completely gutting and reforming the interior and have thus ensured that the future of a building that has come to symbolise Birmingham is assured.