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CASE STUDY 1 - The Bullring, Birmingham

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It is refreshing to look at this, one of Europe's largest city-centre retail regeneration schemes, in a larger context than just the heavily publicised 'blob'. The Bullring scheme takes advantage of the natural land slope by creating streets and open spaces on different levels.

The effect of the changing reflecting sky on the curved buildings' outer skin is extraordinary.

Opposite, and in sharp contrast, is the historic landmark of St Martin's Church, which has gained a new, more prominent position at the bottom of a sloping square.

St Martin's Square is determined by its dramatic topography. A combination of cascading water walls, reflecting pools, steps, terraces and sculptural trees negotiates the approximately 8m level difference. The water feature forms a counterpoint to the new Selfridges building.

Illuminated in slow-changing hues of pink, yellow and blue, it provides a visual spectacle for the cafÚs around the square - acting as a visual break between the Guinet-Derriaz limestone terrace areas to the east and the sloping Hardscape herringbone granite-paved square to the west, forming the setting of St Martin's Church. Water cascades down the sides of three glass cubes ranging in height from 2m to 5m, each containing a different coloured 6mm-thick perspex lightbox surrounded by 300mm-deep glass walls constructed from 19mmthick plates of stacked white glass - supplied by Optiglass and installed by Firmans - with clear silicon fixing. Glass columns and beams provide structural support for the walls and a triple-layer 19mm-thick glass-plate roof. The water flows into a series of pools clad in Burlington slate at the base of each cube and is continually recycled and released through a concealed tank, made by Ritchie Mackenzie. The sequence of different terraces as part of the cascading ensemble of steps and level areas allows for flexible and informal use, while the overall configuration could also be used as an amphitheatre for occasional larger-scale events and performances.

The Central Street in between St Martin's Square and Rotunda Square is paved in two contrasting granites by Hardscape. The street is lit by catenary lighting by iGuzzini, allowing ample space for pedestrian circulation and an uninterrupted view towards St Martin's Church spire and a repositioned bronze statue of Nelson dating from 1809. At night, circles of colour are projected onto the floorscape to animate the street when the busy crowds of people are gone. A terrace with elongated seats by Escofet forms a viewing platform of the new St Martin's Square and church setting.

The Rotunda Square at the top of Central Street is strategically located at a crossroads.

This position is highlighted by a dramatic sculpture, designed by artist Peter Fink of Art2architecture, based on Gross Max's conceptual idea to mark the square with three gently swaying 'light wands' that mirror the height of St Martin's Church spire. The light wands take the form of three coloured carbon-fibre masts rising 20m, 25m and 30m in height. The technology employed is derived from high-performance yacht manufacturing, to provide very strong yet lightweight structures capable of strong wind resistance. The wands feature rotating 'leaves' of stainless steel which limit the degree of movement in the upper parts of the mast to a gentle swaying. Internally lit, the wands echo the lighting theme used in the water sculpture in St Martin's Square to animate the structure at night.

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