The Ikon Gallery

18 05 2007

IKON GalleryFor some crazy reason, I only recently discovered the Ikon Gallery. I often go to Brindleyplace but I rarely stray off into that area where the gallery stands – therefore I found it quite a pleasant surprise and I am sure I will visit it again to check out the architecture and square fronting it.

So, as usual, I have been doing some research into the building to try and understand what it’s about and why it’s there (it can’t have been built as a gallery so long ago – this was the centre of the industrial revolution in Birmingham).

After some extensive research, I discovered that this is yet another work of the great and prolific Martin & Chamberlain, who were commissioned by the Birmingham School Board to design a school building for Oozells Street. In 1877, the school opened and the Ikon Gallery is now set inside this building. I found it quite bewildering that a school was built in such an area. Oozells Street has since lost its vehicular access and is nothing more than a pedestrianised path passing in front of the gallery to Central Square from Broad Street. Maps of this area show that to the rear of the building was an iron works, to the right was an engine works and just next to the iron works was a pin factory. How on Earth did these children study?

It seems the reasoning behind the construction of the school was the density of the population of the area. This was not just crammed with factories and workshops but was also a dense housing area for the working class. The children had nowhere to be educated until this was constructed.

In 1889 Oozells Street Board School became the George Dixon Higher Grade School replacing a school in Bridge Street. The George Dixon School was partly an elementary and partly a Science School. It closed in 1906 when the George Dixon School moved to the site it presently occupies on City Road.

As industry in the area deteriorated due to the slowing pace of national manufacturing, the area fell into a state of neglect. The school building was boarded up and only a few unlucky families remained in the area with the factories.

Argent has breathed new life into the area with the Brindleyplace development and which has brought about the refurbishment of this building. The neo-gothic structure is now the focal point of this square and is a beautiful setting for the gallery which is now becoming an internationally renowned organisation. It is a miracle that this was saved from demolition, as many other Victorian schools have succumb to such a fate. I have a great respect for the building after reading the history.

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Spiral Cafe, Bull Ring

11 05 2007

Spiral cafe from SelfridgesThe Spiral Cafe, built in 2005, is quite a late addition to the modern Bullring Shopping Centre which was opened to crowds in the hundreds upon thousands (the escalators felt it – I was there!) on September 4, 2003.

Designed by Marks Barfield Architects of London Eye fame, it is a simple structure that does not jump up and scream out at you, though, you are always aware of its presence. The design, resembling a shell of the coastline, is clad in bronze with glass facing both ends. The rustic texture and colour of the bronze cladding does form a contrast to the clean bricks and limestone steps surrounding it. Despite this contrast, it still fits in well to its surroundings.

The Bull Ring is an area of architectural and artistic variety, with a clear example being the Selfridges store by Future Systems. With it’s 15,000 spun aluminium discs on a blue concrete background forming an elegant and organic form, it has most-definitely become an international icon of Birmingham. Art has played a major role in the Bull Ring development with the erection of three light wands in Rotunda Square, three Cube fountains in St Martin’s Square and a large holographic mural adorning the entrance facing New Street Station.

Marks Barfield Architects’ art work here is different in that it has a purpose to it. It is interactive and useful. What I find most intriguing about it are the impressions of scale you receive from when looking at it externally and then entering it. From the outside, it appears so small that it seems impossible for any form of institution to be capable of working from there. However, when you enter the edifice, the area seems so much larger and it is quite impressive.

The storage facility is held in a small extruded form of the shell shape to the rear which is barely noticeable. You only see it unless you actually go looking for it. It, itself, is clad in bronze. In fact, the very existence and use of the bronze resulted in the building receiving a Copper Award.

And rightly so as the structure is impressive on a small scale. I feel that it is not rightly appreciated or rightly approached but it is in the perfect location. So, go and sit down under the shell, enjoy a cup of coffee with a snack to bite and relax as you admire the views over east Birmingham.