selfridges birmingham is like no other building. its three-dimensionally curvaceous form hugs the dramatic incline of the newly redeveloped bull ring site as it moves like a shimmering silver wave and drops down to st martin’s square below. glimpsed from the train entering birmingham new street station from the south, it promises mystery and excitement in a city undergoing a 21st century renaissance.
the fluidity of the building’s form, recalling the fall of fabric or the soft lines of a body, strikes a contrast with conventional, angular buildings nearby and, in particular, provides a beautifully ethereal backdrop for the gothic architecture of st martin’s church. most structures with curved facades undulate only in two dimensions – in plan they may be rounded in shape, but in elevation they are not. the selfridges building curves three-dimensionally. thus its design makes no distinction between ‘walls’ or ‘roof’, and there are no abrupt angles to break the organic, flowing lines.
rising from the ground, the facade gently billows outwards before being drawn in at a kind of waistline. it then curves out again and over, in one continuous movement. the exterior is enveloped in a skin made up of thousands of aluminium discs, creating a fine, lustrous grain like the scales of a snake or the sequins on a paco rabanne dress. this surface remains constant across the whole building, reinforcing the unity of the structure and giving it the quality of a vast, sensuous architectural sculpture. although this is a large building it gives an impression of weightlessness, and can appear almost animate and breathing. in sunlight it shimmers, reflecting minute changes in weather conditions and taking on the colours, light and shapes of people and things passing by.
at the top of the building is a soaring free-form opening, glazed but revealing only minimum support, so that the roof is experienced from beneath as a sheer membrane. it pours light down into a great canted atrium, allowing a clear view of the sky and giving a real sense of changing weather conditions outside. the flood of natural light articulates the store’s dramatic inner landscape with highlights, shadows and reflections.
large, sinuously shaped openings carved from the form at the sides provide shop windows and views out. these openings are frameless but are surrounded with an edge of yellow frits, gently defining their shape.
designed by future systems, selfridges birmingham opens on
4 september 2003.
architects: future systems
location: birmingham, uk