Friday, December 4, 2009

Birmingham


Desirable alien (2)

In contrast to the British ‘alien’ of a few posts back, my other urban invader really is from overseas. It began life, of course, in China, and was donated to the city by the Wing Yip Company (Britain’s foremost Chinese grocer) in 1998 as a ‘thank you’ to Birmingham, the place where its business became prosperous. It enlivens a roundabout in the city’s inner ring road.

The Chinese pagoda was carved in Fujian. The granite structure was then shipped to Britain in sections and the whole thing was assembled on site. At 40 feet high, it is impressive, and, unlike the Pevsner City Guide to Birmingham, which finds it ‘gloomy’, I think it cheers up its busy roundabout. It makes is effect in spite of being dwarfed by the tall office and hotel buildings that cluster hereabouts, especially the partly pale blue Beetham Tower which, with its 36 storeys faced in glass panels, is something of an alien presence itself.

I like the way our cities can throw up such surprising bits of decoration – surprising, but not entirely random, because the pagoda stands near the city’s Chinese quarter. It’s good that even places that have been so busily modernized and remodernized as Birmingham continue to make us raise our eyebrows in this way. And that a roundabout has been thought about, for once.

7 comments:

Thud said...

The gate to the 'China town' in Liverpool is an abomination,my chinese family liken it to living in a zoo.

Philip Wilkinson said...

I've not seen the gate in Liverpool, but I had a look at an online photograph of it and I certainly prefer Birmingham's more restrained pagoda.

Old Brummie said...

I think it's totally incongruous. There isn't a Chinese quarter. It's a few Chinese restaurants and the Council trying to market the area. At least the previous Desirable Alien had been a Turkish Bath. I hope you're not moving on to praise the Floozie in the Jacuzzi and the Iron Man in Victoria Square which the statue of HM Queen Victoria now has for company.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ouch! I draw the line at the floozy. The iron man on the other hand...

Neil said...

The culturally incongruous - but in this case entirely beneficial - monument I remember from childhood is the Maharaja's Well in Stoke Row, Oxfordshire. This was financed by the Maharajah of Benares in 1864. It may seem amazing that English villagers in the 1860s were dependent on the random benevolence of Indian princes for access to clean water, but it is true.

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

One other thing I like about the pagoda is that they light it up in different colours at night.

The Floozie in the Jacuzzi is dreadful--a turgid blob. But Anthony Gormley's Iron Man is a brilliant masterpiece. (It also helps show up how timid and feeble that sculpture of Queen Victoria is.)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: I have a picture of the Maharaja's fountain in a book somewhere and it is something I always mean to go and have a look at. Its story is indeed an interesting one, showing the patchiness of the rural water supply in the 19th century. Mind you, 100 years later my grandfather in rural Lincolnshire was relying on a spring in the garden for his water. First job every morning: light the fire and fetch a bucket of water from the spring.