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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 September 2007, 04:46 GMT 05:46 UK
Sky-high future for city landmark
By Kathryn Edwards
BBC News, Birmingham

Love it or hate it, it is one of the most prominent features on Birmingham's landscape.

In the four decades since it was first built, the Rotunda has lived through the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, which affected a pub at its base, and seen off the threat of demolition.

The new-look Rotunda
The exterior of the Rotunda was revamped to include more glass

Now, the 265ft (81m) tall building, originally designed to house offices, has undergone an external facelift and work is still continuing to turn its interior into luxury flats.

On Wednesday it had the second topping-out ceremony of its lifetime.

In 1993 it survived the threat of demolition as part of a proposed facelift of the Bull Ring markets and in 2000 was made a Grade II listed building.

Professor Carl Chinn, a Birmingham historian, said the Rotunda had a special place in many people's hearts - but it had not always been so popular.

'Vibrant city'

"It was quite controversial when it was built because it was so radical," he said.

"For my generation who've grown up with it, it's been part of the Birmingham skyline and we've seen it as part of our heritage. But for my mother's generation it wasn't particularly welcome at the time.

"It was a symbol of the '60s, to show that Birmingham was a vibrant city that was developing.

Views from the top of the Rotunda
People living in the flats will have views for miles around Birmingham

"It was seen as something that would have looked more at home in America, and many Americans have always seen Birmingham as the most US-style UK city."

When the building's 230 flats went on sale in October they were all snapped up within two hours by people who had been queuing all night to put down their deposits.

The revamped Rotunda, when it opens in spring 2008, will include one and two-bed apartments on 19 floors, with six penthouses on top.

Costs ranged from 150,000 to 500,000 for a penthouse.

Original architect

Developer Urban Splash, which took over the project in 2006, has not revealed how much the whole project has cost.

Architect Glenn Howells said the firm had passed a lot of the plans by the Rotunda's original architect, Jim Roberts, who is now in his 80s.

Glenn Howells
Glenn Howells said they had consulted the original architect

"When English Heritage had problems with what we wanted to do with the building, because it was listed, we spoke to Jim," Mr Howells said.

"He whipped out the original plan and showed a drawing that was almost identical to ours. He said he'd always wanted to have more glass and fewer panels in the design, but money and the technology available then limited him.

"In effect it was his building and we didn't want to do anything he wouldn't agree with."

People in the city centre's Rotunda Square had mixed views about the building.

'It's an icon'

Abbi Simms, 19, who was moving to Manchester from Birmingham, said: "It's pretty horrible.

"You see all the nice clean, white railings and things around the Bull Ring and it doesn't look good. But it looks a lot better than it did."

Nathan Southall and James Bandenbury in front of the Rotunda
Nathan Southall and James Bandenbury said they were fans

Her grandmother Anne Raza, 63, though was more of a fan.

"I've grown up with it and it's always been a part of Birmingham to me," said Mrs Raza, of Northfield.

"It's one of those things that makes the city and we could be represented by much worse things."

Nineteen-year-olds James Bandenbury and Nathan Southall were also glad the building had been saved and redeveloped.

"It's an icon," said Mr Bandenbury, of Perry Barr.

"It's in a prime location for Birmingham. I don't think tourists would be queuing to come and see it, but the skyline would definitely be missing without it."

A scale model of the tower is at Millenium Point

Revamped Rotunda is taking shape
08 Aug 06 |  West Midlands
Falling glass shuts shopping area
18 May 06 |  West Midlands

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