One of Birmingham’s flagship public spaces was officially opened to reveal its new design in a special ceremony on the 3rd July 2019. Centenary Square’s new look was unveiled nearly five years after Birmingham City Council, with RIBA, launched an international design competition, to redesign one of the city’s biggest squares, which attracted 185 entries from more than 30 countries. Its completion fulfils the organiser’s aspiration to create ‘a world class space and popular destination’.

The winning entry, designed by Edinburgh-based firm Graeme Massie Architects, included a mix of trees, small plants alongside a new reflection pool, stunning paving and integrated seating.

From the outset

Centenary Square’s redevelopment set out to consolidate a cultural quarter and act as a new ‘gateway’ to many of Birmingham’s major cultural venues such as the Birmingham Symphony Hall and International Conference Centre, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the new City Library. It aimed to provide a new outdoor venue for the cultural programme of these institutions. The project also had to respect and enhance the history of the Square, improving the setting and accessibility of heritage assets such as the ‘Hall of Memory’ war memorial and Baskerville House.

Tangible benefits

As the flagship project in the 14,100m2 redevelopment of the city’s west end, and a keystone of the Birmingham City Council’s ‘Big City Plan’, Centenary Square has been a catalyst for further urban regeneration including major urban developments such as Paradise Plaza, Arena Central and HSBC’s new UK headquarters.

Hardscape’s involvement

Hardscape were approached at Stage 3 to assist in developing proposals for the paving design for Centenary Square. At Stage 4, Hardscape were invited alongside another supplier to provide a sample panel for the proposed paving. It was the high-quality of the paving evident in the Hardscape panel and the willingness to work closely with GMA in testing and developing particular paving finishes and profiles together with a demonstrable Ethical Trading Initiative credibility that impressed the client and design team which resulted in Hardscape being chosen.

As a continuous, but articulated surface over the full extent of the Square, the granite paving became a key element of the design. The quality and variation possible of Hardscape’s products allowed GMA to achieve their design intentions for the project with Hardscape always available to advise on technical aspects of stone paving. Additionally, the ability to locally store and vest materials for easy inspection which mitigated the risk of long lead times and increased prices by being able to offer same day delivery. This expertise and peace of mind all helped GMA’s understanding and strategy to develop robust planning details to ultimately ensure the long-term success of the project.

Material-specific: Granites (Caesar White, Shiraz Red, Crystal Black, Yellow Rock); Sandstone (Woodkirk Buff) – Finishes: Flamed, honed, bush-hammered and cropped.

Granite was chosen as the main paving material for its high durability. The variety of colours and finishes available allowed GMA to achieve their design intent. Also as the Square is designed to accommodate HGV traffic, sufficient compressive strength of the individual stone paving elements was required. As well as meeting the minimum required levels of slip resistance, particular attention had to be made to ensure the Crystal Black paving within the reflective water feature would maintain the minimum slip resistance even in its flooded state.

Bespoke elements

Hardscape worked closely with GMA to develop an anti-skateboarding strategy for the edges of granite benches and platforms. Having tested and explored various textures and profiles, the final strategy was to use a serious of alternating grooves that were made into bespoke granite bench top pieces.

Standing tall

Centenary Square’s defining feature is a ‘Hall of Columns’, composed of a grid of 25m-high, slender lighting columns, that give the space a strong presence within an eclectic urban setting. Its canopy of lights creates an urban landmark at night and during winter months. At ground level, built over a reinforced concrete slab, the full extent of paving surface is designed to accommodate HGV traffic for events and the Big Wheel at Christmas. There is a large 1,700m2 reflective water feature (built in Crystal Black granite) which can be turned off for larger events, 10mm deep and safe to walk through when flooded.

End result

The delivery of the Square falls into two distinct phases: Phase 1 delivers the main civic space; Phase 2, to be delivered by the Midland Metro Alliance team, will deliver the works along Broad Street, including a new tram stop, which will further integrate the Square into the life of the city. Phase 2 of the development uses the same Hardscape materials to seamlessly integrate the two phases into one coherent public space.

Lasting legacy

Since opening, the Square has been packed with visitors sitting and enjoying the area. Local children arrive in their swimming costumes to play in the water. The square is no longer just a place for people to pass through it is somewhere for the people of Birmingham to come and socialise in, sit, enjoy and play. Events have already taken place, the Big Wheel and ice rink returns for Christmas, event organisers are booking for the future.

From an economic perspective, all buildings onto the Square now have the prestige of having a Centenary Square postal address. HSBC for example, moved to Birmingham from London bringing 1000 jobs, influenced by the potential redevelopment. HSBC are now based at No 1 Centenary Square.

Cllr Brigid Jones, from Birmingham City Council commented: “This is the next important stage in the re-imagining of Centenary Square: it is no longer just a space to pass through – it is now a world-class public space where people can stop, relax and socialise and take in the incredible things around them.”

Client: Birmingham City Council; Architects: Graeme Massie Architects; Contractor: Bouygues UK; Fitzgerald Construction (sub-contractors); Project Management: Acivico; Engineers: AECOM