Perpetually struggling with its vast scale, lack of purpose and sweeping winds, Centenary Square was the object of a RIBA Competition.
Historically several projects merely scratched the cosmetic surface, not addressing the square’s fundamental floors. Our proposals hence took the more radical approach to provide an interesting sequence of spaces, interlinked, yet of different qualities, in support of the surrounding cultural institutions to create a cultural quarter.
Centenary Quarter houses the open-air living rooms of Birmingham. This powerful spatial metaphor has been adapted in response to the scale of the site to create a series of public rooms for leisure, entertainment and events. Much like the plan of an English country house, each room has its own scale, character and purpose. Together they form a whole that accommodates the diversity of urban life.
Inside Centenary Quarter a colonnade along the built edge animates each room.
Each of the distinct yet interconnected rooms is defined by a kit of parts - a carpet, lighting, furniture and ‘walls’ – evoking different characters and supporting different functions. Some of these elements are new, whilst others (eg ‘carpets’ based on Tess Jaray’s pavings) are remnants of previous schemes.
The ‘walls’ are a range of architectural and landscape elements of varying degrees of transparency and permeability: multi-purpose event frame, performance stage, market structure, densely planted trees, grid of in-ground fountains, building.
The central space can expand and contract to respond to the different scales of events it houses.
The result is an unprecedented urban texture that lies somewhere between city and landscape, with a range of spatial atmospheres from piazza to park.
This is a central civic space to receive, connect and house events (such as memorial services, concerts, markets). A large scale ‘carpet’ demarcates the square, lit from above by a chandelier. Perimeter ‘walls’ are created by formal planting, a linear in-ground fountain, market structures and a stage.
The garden provides a serene oasis of calm for the memorial at its centre. Other sculptures of Centenary Square are located in niches formed by delightful planting. The path peels off at its southern edge to lead into the boulevard, at the northern edge it leads into the Long Gallery.
This entertaining walking route is framed by the display of life within the framing walls: the games room to the south and the library and Rep along its northern edge.
A light structure provides cover for childrens’s play and games. During market days, stalls are interspersed and sheltered by the structure.
The drawing room provides a space to withdraw from the bustle of the Great
Hall, for socialising and conversation or to read a book.
Perimeter niches of formal planting house sculptures and furniture for more intimate gatherings and conversation.
A stage houses outdoor performances with spectators seated in the colonnade, on the bank of the mound and within the games room structure.
Location: Centenary Square, Birmingham
Client: Birmingham City Council
Status: RIBA Competition entry
Collaborator: Matthew Barnett-Howland