Where can we find the true spirit of Birmingham today?

One embodiment may be found in a piece of public art in the green space under the roundabout at Five Ways, on the edge of the city centre.

Impulse, created in 1972 by Alex Mann, symbolises the progressive nature of the Second City.

This spirit is found in so much of the history and culture of Birmingham, not least in the design of our favourite post-war buildings.

Birmingham architect John Madin was responsible for much of the development of the nearby Calthorpe Estate commercial area between 1960 and 1975.

Following the devastation of the Second World War, he designed purpose-built offices in Edgbaston, taking workers out of converted, overcrowded spaces in the city centre to accessible and modern facilities.

No.1 Hagley Road
No.1 Hagley Road

Madin himself recalled how office workers wore drab jerseys and thick skirts on their first day in these new blocks.

But, on their second day, after they had seen how warm and bright their new offices were, they arrived in summer dresses.

Towering over Five Ways island are two red-brick buildings by Madin: No.1 Hagley Road (1974) and Broadway House (1976).

Both are later and more post-modern in their design than the rectilinear blocks further down Hagley Road.

The charm of No.1 lies in its complexity.

The block is detailed with reflective glass providing a foretaste of more contemporary buildings.

It and Broadway House are complementary.

Both of deep red brick, Broadway House, with its horizontal planes, and No.1, with its vertical lines, are faceted in different ways.

Broadway House has a central service tower from which radiate blocks of varying heights and sizes.

Built as offices, both have now been converted for high-end apartments.

If you are looking for concrete and a more Brutalist style, look no further than Tricorn House (1976), just a few steps down the Hagley Road.

Designed by architects Sidney Kaye and Firmin, also famous for the Euston Tower in London, this amazing building combines the feel of both monumental and elegant architecture.

It stands solidly but the sweep of the three curving sides mitigates its bulk.

The use of concrete is light and varied, seen in the facing panels and the top storey with its moulded niches reminiscent of a battlement.

The building originally stood on open pillars on both sides of the reception area, a conceit that allows the viewer to feel the building floats in its space, adding to its grace.

But sadly the view of this magnificent building from Five Ways has now been obliterated by a new block of apartments which also crowds out No.1.

These two buildings were designed so two sides could be viewed simultaneously but this new block puts paid to that.

Tricorn House
Tricorn House

The blighting of fine original architecture is increasingly common in Birmingham.

You only have to look at Broad Street where the new HSBC building is under construction just feet away from Alpha Tower.

It was listed because it is "one of the most aesthetically successful office buildings in Birmingham with a shaped outline and careful detailing giving it a dynamic forcefulness".

Yet it is very difficult to see that outline now.

Then there is the new Library of Birmingham, a massive building shoehorned into the space and dominating it.

Surely our city planners and the planning committee need to take account of the implications of their decisions?

Continuing down past Morrisons, in Hagley Road, you can appreciate Madin's vision for the commercial area.

Taking a left to the side of No.54, itself a fine collection of concrete buildings of different heights and sizes, you enter a courtyard surrounded on three sides by buildings of very different designs by Madin.

No.54 rises up majestically to your right, behind which is the beautiful sculptural bulk of the Brutalist concrete car parks of the Chamber of Commerce and in front of you stands Neville House (1976).

The entrance is on Harborne Road but approaching it from the back you come upon a six-storey, glass building expensively clad in black granite, standing on a chamfered pediment of granite sets.

This elevation and the recessing of the ground floor behind pillars gives a feeling of a small temple discreetly tucked away waiting to be discovered.

54 Hagley Road
54 Hagley Road

This is still used as an office block and sympathetic refurbishment has included retention of the metal-framed windows so that the lightness of effect has not been compromised.

For once the city council has recognised good architecture and the building has been locally listed.

Whether this means anything is questionable, as the fate of the Ringway Centre in Smallbrook Queensway demonstrates.

Also locally listed, it is now due for partial demolition and cladding.

Is there another way to protect this architecture and our heritage?

Edgbaston is the biggest conservation area in the city but this part of Hagley Road lies outside the boundary.

Is it time to extend the conservation area to include these iconic 20th century buildings alongside the Georgian and Victorian villas most closely associated with leafy Edgbaston?

Mary Keating represents the Brutiful Brum group which campaigns to preserve Birmingham's remaining Brutalist buildings