Birmingham reaches for sky with V Building


As Dublin agonises over high hise, Irish-founded company Dandara has applied to build Birmingham's tallest building, at 50 storeys.

After the IRA bombed Birmingham, the city moved quickly to restore both its built fabric and community relations.

The devastated city centre was given priority treatment in urban renewal, becoming an example when a city - and its people - defy both killers and planning pessimists.

The renewal of The Bullring was a starting point which kick-started Birmingham to greater ambitions. As put by planning expert Michael Parkinson: "A great First Act - now let's see the Second Act!"

A generation on, the momentum continues as the city stretches upwards and outwards - especially upwards - to rival Chicago and Manhattan in terms of sculpted, high rise buildings.

The Second Act was unveiled at a major property show in Cannes earlier this year, with a display of high-rise projects which attracted serious money.

No prizes for philanthropy: as soon as projects like these take life, the value increases exponentially.

Project the market worth - £100 million of local land twinned with, say, £150 million investor capital - and you have £450 million worth of real estate including homes, offices and leisure outlets.

Space in the sky costs nothing, once you strip out the initial purchase and development costs of the site, returns come literally out of thin air, as the projects reach for the sky with planning approval. A brick costs the same whether its on the ground floor or the 30th floor.

"The sky's the limit!" has become Birmingham's mantra.

The V Building has a Churchillian two-fingers-design. It was developed by Dandara, a company owned by a clutch of Dublin building graduates.

The V Building will be a glowing icon of tinted glass reaching to 50 storeys and providing a mix of residential, office, restaurants, crèches and gyms. In impact, it has been compared to the Sears Roebuck skyscraper in Chicago.

"The glass will shine in the day and glow at night," says MD of Dandara, Martin Clancy, whose previous designs for apartments in Glasgow Harbour had copper cladding.

Clancy worked closely with city planners to deliver this: "It will mark the regeneration of Broad Street, Queensway and Bridge Street (re-zoned Arena Central), about two million sq ft of development.

"It's been talked about for 10 years and now we're getting there."

At 150m high, with a solar observatory and restaurant on top of 600 apartments, the

V Building aims to become an architectural marker on the 7.6-acre site around the old Central TV Centre and complete in three years . An ebullient motivator who likes to tease out ideas over good wines, Clancy waited until he could get the services of architect Eric Kuhne, who designed Darling Harbour in Sydney.

Clancy gave him a target to design the the best and brightest building for a futuristic Birmingham. For Kuhne, Clancy was pushing an open door: "I've always wanted to do a building which would look different from every angle and at different times of the day and night."

With luminescent glass on a grid system and a sloping roof, the V Building will, in the words of one of its political promoters, set a marker for the built environment in Britain.

"I expect to see Birmingham transformed by iconic buildings," says Mike Whitby, leader of the council whose political clout helped power the entire regeneration concept under the working title of Advantage West Midlands. This razed surrounding areas (in the design sense) and allocated renewal projects.

Soon, Birmingham will reach for the skies with four or five tall buildings and point up hinterland ambitions. Meanwhile Wolverhampton has committed to renewal of £200 million, Hereford £175 million and Stoke-on-Trent £40million.

"What's good for Birmingham is good for Britain," says Whitby, with a nod to social benefits of regeneration in a part of the UK which was blighted by the decline of the heavy industries.

Now the capital of the Black Country plans to erode its legacy with swathes of new urban landscape, business parks and residences.

Stretching from Wolverhampton to Stoke, with Birmingham as design hub of a modernist transformation, the next eight years or so will see billions of sterling, yen (and some Irish euro) transform the built environment

As for the V Building, it's a sort of iconic marker in the middle, rather like the space rocket which defines Cape Canaveral. This week, the project advances, with the formal application for planning. Depending on the result, it may be open to investors later in the year.