On the evening of 6th December 2018 at least fifty people filtered through the appropriately refined, sleek and chic, gallery of the Minima furniture store in the Jewellery Quarter; to bag a copy of the Birmingham Modernist Map hot off the press.
This was fitting testament to what had been an eighteen month long labour of love for staff and students at Birmingham City University’s School of Architecture and Design aided by designers An Endless Supply.
Mike Dring (Senior Lecturer in Architecture and Chair of the Birmingham Modern Society) who led on the Project, introduced the map by stressing his hope that it’s completion marked the start of a new; more up tempo, phase in the city’s celebration of its twentieth century architectural heritage.
A quick glance at the finished product is enough to confirm that it marks a firm foundation for future appreciation of the city’s recent built past. Intelligently structured around three walks easily legible and accessible to locals and visitors alike, the map, researched with Pevsner like precision; showcases the “top fifty” finest of Birmingham’s surviving buildings constructed during modernism’s unambiguous fifty year heyday between the 1920s and the 1970s.
Stylistically the Birmingham Modernist Map harks back to the mid-twentieth century with some contemporary twists. It is produced pamphlet, or guide leaflet style, on hard wearing stock with a minimalistic front and back cover protecting the glossy pages inside. The pages within contain numerous brilliant monochrome images of the mid-twentieth century classics that map-holders are invited to tour. These images draw the eye and provide vital visual context, but the real capstone of the publication is the vital statistics for each structure recorded, listed in an easily accessible manner that recalls nothing so much as an “Eye Spy” guide for adults (making for an appropriately modernistic frame of reference).
This format allows the author’s to unobtrusively, and non-judgmentally note; that a great many of the buildings listed have been substantially altered since they were erected forty, fifty or sixty years ago. The writer of this review, however; was struck to be reminded just how many outwardly contemporary looking buildings-notably for instance the Mailbox-in central Birmingham; are built around, and within; the core of older structures. Regardless, the map provides a brilliant window through which the long time resident, frequent observer, or casual visitor can explore the topography of twentieth century Britain.
Beyond the opportunity to buy the map and peruse a further collection of limited edition photographic prints-by Mike Dring-showcasing modernist buildings in Birmingham, Minima as a venue was very much the star of the evening. What better location to encounter the design of the mid twentieth century than amidst minimalist, Scandinavian inspired furniture and utensils? This backdrop provided the perfect stage for Zygeratt to perform a solo set, brilliantly blending analogue synth and digital sounds. The overall effect was that of a dynamic, ethereal, yet still calming soundscape. One that was perfectly suited and brilliantly attuned to both the tenor of the event and the venue.
There can be little doubt that the Birmingham Modernist Map will become a standard reference point for people interested in the city’s recent architectural past. They’ll hopefully be lots of work in a similar vein coming in the future.
The Birmingham Modernist Map will be available to purchase through the Modernist Society online shop.