'Invisible' interventions, uplifting effortless and elegantly simple buildings, and a Passivhaus records centre feature in the West Midlands Awards this year. Marco da Cruz sets the context. Click on the images to find out more
Marco da Cruz: Those who have formed an opinion of the West Midlands Region based on the view from a train carriage or an M6 flyover may think it is an area blighted by urban decay and the legacy of lost heavy industry. There is no doubt that it did suffer, partly because of the disastrous anti-growth policies imposed by Westminster in the 1960s.
Birmingham’s motto is ‘Forward’. For so long this had an unfortunate connection to the ‘heroic’ destruction of its Victorian heritage and sad neglect of its inheritance, but it is now an appropriate description of a city increasingly seen as the powerhouse of the region. Birmingham has a talent for reinvention – and the confidence of a city with the youngest population in Britain.
This renaissance isn’t only seen in the regeneration of the city centre over the past 30 years, but in the surrounding districts. In the Jewellery Quarter traditional jewellery industry and retailing thrives alongside new design-based companies. Diversity has inspired a more cosmopolitan ideal and development is finally starting to tackle stubborn pockets of dereliction with well-designed mixed-use schemes repurposing old factories for clients who expect excellent design.
However, the West Midlands Region is more diverse and varied than its name suggests. It is not wholly characterised by the metropolitan areas at its heart: 80 percent of the region by area is rural, including Staffordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. Each of these counties has its own architectural societies, notable practices and ‘scene’. The combination of vibrant urban renaissance and proud county towns and cities provides architects with huge opportunities – not least because the quality of the buildings they will help to create are key to this region’s continuing renewal and success.
Marco da Cruz, Sjölander da Cruz Architects, Leamington Spa