It’s often said that cities are mankind’s greatest invention. They bring social order, well-being, cultural stimulation and economic prosperity.

Cities are built on values and ideals and as society changes over time, layers of history are forged.

Birmingham’s varied past is charted through its rich and diverse architectural heritage and it’s this that gives the city its unique identity.

It is a treasure trove of architectural styles that each represents a moment in time, with every building telling a story about the people and the values that shaped it.

In the 19th Century, Birmingham witnessed radical changes. As a burgeoning industrial power it became known as the Workshop of the World, the City of a Thousand Trades.

But the city’s infrastructure was plighted with problems and squalid slums stretched across the city centre.

Public authorities realised they need to take action and embarked on major slum clearances, making way for many of the city’s greatest civic buildings.

Looking across the city of Birmingham from the very top of the Chamberlain Clock Tower.
Looking across the city of Birmingham from the very top of the Chamberlain Clock Tower.

Mayor Joseph Chamberlain, nearing the end of his political career, reflected: “Formerly, it was badly lighted, imperfectly guarded, and only partially drained; there were few public buildings and few important streets ... But now, great public edifices not unworthy of the importance of a midland metropolis have risen on every side.

"Rookeries and squalid courts have given way to fine streets and open places. The roads are well paved, well kept, well lighted, and well cleansed... Baths and wash-houses are provided at a nominal cost to the users. Free libraries and museums of art are open to all the inhabitants ... ”

Following the Second World War further radical changes to the face of the city ensued. Vast areas of the city were again flattened, this time to make way for Herbert Manzoni’s vision of a 20st Century metropolis.

More recent years have seen the construction of many ambitious and iconic buildings, making today’s city a multi-faceted, vibrant and diverse urban environment.

The richness and variety of Birmingham’s architecture however, goes far deeper than the surface.

Some of the most tangible parts of its history that remain are manifested beneath the surface of the buildings that make up the fabric of this great city, just out of sight in the streets of Birmingham.

In these Hidden Spaces features Matthew Goer, of Associated Architects, takes a rare glimpse behind the façades of some of Birmingham’s best-known buildings and also discovers some lesser-known, hidden spaces within the city, to reveal the people and stories that have shaped its history.

Matthew Goer, Associated Architects

Hidden Spaces supplements
Birmingham Post Hidden Spaces supplements

A strong knowledge of city and its buildings

Matthew Goer is a director at Associated Architects. As a graduate from Birmingham School of Architecture and a practitioner in Birmingham for over 20 years, he has built up a strong knowledge of the city and its buildings. Contributions to this feature also come from Jack Tasker and Steve Townsend.

Founded in 1968, Associated Architects has always maintained a regional focus to its business, with a large portion of its work coming from the Midlands. Today, the Mailbox-based practice is Birmingham’s largest architectural practice, with a continually growing portfolio across multiple sectors.

The award-winning practice is behind many of the recent major developments in the city, such as Birmingham City Council’s new headquarters at 10 Woodcock Street, Birmingham City University’s City Centre campus at Eastside, and some well-known older projects such as the Mailbox and the Hippodrome.

For more information about Associated Architects and its work visit:

The first Hidden Spaces feature looks at the opulence of Birmingham's Victorian Council House and its wartime secrets

We also take a look at the Chamberlain Clock Tower, also known as Big Brum and its commanding views across the city