Birmingham City Hall features a superbly balanced Baroque facade

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Birmingham Council House
By David Jennings*

17 January 2010: Birmingham’s magnificent Council House (and not to be confused with the equally impressive Town Hall adjacent to it, which is a concert hall) houses the Council Offices and Council Chamber, as well as the City’s Art Gallery and Museum.

The Council House was built in 1874-9 to designs by the architect H R Yeoville Thomason. Facing Victoria Square, the front façade is a superbly balanced Baroque composition, whose centrepiece is a wide and deep porte-cochere, behind which is a central arch with a mosaic tympanum by the Italian firm of Salviati. This is flanked by Corinthian columns, carrying a pediment with a carved relief depicting Britannia receiving the manufacturers of Birmingham. Behind the arch is a high drum with a Baroque dome. Inside, a grand staircase beneath the dome leads up to a suite of 3 reception rooms on the first floor, with Corinthian pilasters and decorated coffered ceilings.

The first extension, built to house the museum in 1881-85, was built in a similar style, and was also designed by Yeoville Thomason. Its main features are on the left-hand side of the building, facing Chamberlain Square, and include a tall clock tower with a steeply pitched tiled roof, known colloquially as ‘Big Brum’, and a grand off-centre entrance, again with an imposing three-storey portico and topped with a sculpted pediment. In 1911-19 a further extension was built in the Edwardian Renaissance style by Ashley and Newman, linked to the rear of the Council House by a broad arch over Edmund Street.

The squares in front and to the left of the Council House have recently been refurbished, and form, with the Town Hall and City Library, an attractive and imposing group of public buildings. The library’s modern Brutalist design is, however, in stark contrast to its neighbours and has provoked mixed views from critics: completed in 1974, it is in the form of an inverted concrete ziggurat, by the architect John Madin, and is based closely on the design of Kallman, McKinnell and Knowles's Boston City Hall (1963-68) in the USA.

* David Jennings is an independent management consultant working on policy and strategy development and stakeholder engagement, including government and business relationship management. He is an Associate of Indepen and Achill Management

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