The Victorian era saw extensive building across the city. Major public buildings such as the Town Hall, the Law Courts, the Council House (see picture) and the Museum & Art Gallery were constructed, many under the auspices of Joseph Chamberlain's reforming mayoralty. Saint Chad's Cathedral, built in 1839 by Augustus Pugin, was the first Roman Catholic Cathederal to be built in the UK since the Reformation. The characteristic materials of Victorian Birmingham are red brick and terracotta, and many fine Victorian buildings have been retained on New Street and Corporation Street in the city centre. Across the city, the need to house the industrial workers gave rise to miles of redbrick streets and terraces, many of back-to-back houses, some of which were later to become inner-city slums.
The new Selfridges building
Continued population growth in the interwar period, saw vast estates of semi-detached houses being built on greenfield land in outlying parts of the city such as Kingstanding and Weoley Castle, but the coming of World War II and the Blitz claimed many lives and many beautiful buildings too. However, the destruction that took place in post-war Birmingham was also extensive: dozens of fine Victorian buildings like the intricate glass-roofed Birmingham New Street Station, and the old Central Library, were razed in the 1950s and 1960s and replaced with modernist concrete buildings. In inner-city areas too, much Victorian housing was redeveloped and existing communities were relocated to tower block estates like Castle Vale.
The planning decisions of the post-war years were to have a profound effect on the image of Birmingham in subsequent decades, with the mix of ring roads, shopping malls and tower blocks often referred to as a 'concrete jungle'. In more recent years, Birmingham has learnt from what many see as the mistakes of the 1960s and instituted the largest tower block demolition and renovation programmes anywhere in Europe. There has been a lot of new building in the city centre in recent years, including the award-winning Future Systems' Selfridges building, an irregularly-shaped structure covered in thousands of reflective discs (see picture), the Brindleyplace development and the Millennium Point science and technology centre.