The Rotunda, Birmingham B2
Grade II converted apartment block
Architect: James A Roberts
Year built: 1965
Completed in 1965 as a mixed-use office block as part of the James A. Roberts-designed post-war Bull Ring Shopping Centre development, the Rotunda is one of the few mid-century buildings left standing in Birmingham after years of regeneration which has seen the 1960s station, shopping centre and numerous John Marin brutalist buildings demolished to make way for glass and steel replacements.
The Rotunda almost met the same fate when it was threatened with demolition in 1993 but was saved by English Heritage and was given a Grade II listing in 2000. It sat empty for a number of years before being refurbished and partially converted for residential use by developer Urban Splash and Glenn Howells Architects. The refurbishment involved updating the façade by fitting 72 floor-to-ceiling height glass panes, each placed at 5° to the neighbouring window and carving the internal space up into 232 luxury apartments. All of the flats except those on the top floors, which are let out as serviced apartments, were bought up by eager buyers (most of them buy-to-let investors) in just three hours at the height of the market in 2005 – these buyers were to end up losing out in spectacular fashion when the credit crunch hit in 2008.
A trip to visit friends in Birmingham last weekend provided us with the perfect opportunity to stay in one of the serviced apartments on the 19th floor of the tower. The building looked almost completely contemporary in person, perhaps due in part to its new glass facade and renovated lobby area, a gently sloping stone ramp with a rather busy light display overhead.
The flat itself consisted of a large open plan living area and sleeping area separated by a sliding wall. A “jack and Jill” bathroom (i.e. with a door at each end) ran down the side of the flat, providing a direct route to the sleeping area from the front door.
This space-optimising layout together with the sparse yet tasteful furnishings (slightly naff colour scheme and artwork aside) and curved floor-to-ceiling windows made the flat seem a lot larger than it actually was. The views over Birmingham city centre were fantastic as well.
Flats in the building occasionally come up for sale. Even post financial crash, they’ve been pretty expensive for Birmingham (£350,000 for a two bedroom flat – this would buy you a sizeable semi-detached house elsewhere in the city). That said, if I were to move to Birmingham, I certainly wouldn’t mind living here.