Birmingham Smithfield

Currently undergoing a process of transformation, the Smithfield area of Birmingham is set to become a city-centre mixed-use development that will include new vibrant retail markets, family focused leisure, cultural buildings, homes, public squares and transport facilities.

Our challenge was to embed the practice of making art within every phase of this major new development for Birmingham.

A transformational development proposal

Birmingham City Council required a public art vision document that promoted art and culture as an integral component in the design, delivery and use of Birmingham Smithfield. Commissioned before a delivery partner for the site was appointed, our document sought to capture the council’s aspirations for how Smithfield could be developed to benefit local people and the local cultural ecology.

Our vision document summary diagram

By embedding public art into the earliest design stage, the built environment will be able to support and nurture many forms of artistic expression. In this way, the Birmingham Smithfield Public Art Vision will look at maximising the potential of the site during construction to help shape the identity of new development at Smithfield, using temporary projects will seek to create opportunities for younger artists to test out ideas before committing to a long-term investment.

Seeking out the opportunities

The delivery of an engaging, accessible and enjoyable cultural experience is also a key ingredient towards ensuring the success and adoption of this project by the city and its inhabitants. Permanent pieces of public art, temporary projects, events and cultural venues will all contribute towards creating a vibrant and varied cultural offer.

Birmingham’s crest reflects the city’s historical reliance on the craftspersonship and industry of its inhabitants
Smithfield market today
Herbs and spices stall

The Birmingham Smithfield development will see the creation of ambitious new public spaces overlaid on historic locations that have greatly contributed to shaping the city to its current form. The site is the birthplace of the city, and one that is claimed to have held markets since before the Norman Conquest.

We developed a Public Art Vision to assist in developing a sense of place and embed the new development within its site, whilst recognising the historical significance of the site in shaping the city and proposing historical references to help shape the identity of the new development. Our work has been informed by the history of the site and the many different communities that have occupied it.

Recognising the historical significance of the site
Site location map dated 1553
Site location map dated 1775

We were appointed to the Council’s consultant team, lead by Cushman & Wakefield, with the remit to create a Public Art Vision for the Council’s development partner to take forward. This included developing a series of Public Art Principles and drawing upon the city’s existing Cultural and Public art strategies.

“Birmingham has historically been known as the “Workshop of the World”, and the Birmingham Smithfield Public Art Plan will seek to strengthen this reputation as a city of artists and makers.”

Juliet Quintero

The aim of the future Smithfield Cultural Strategy is to foster a thriving cultural community embedded within the new development, and to showcase ambitious and thought-provoking works that reflect Birmingham’s status as a prosperous and flourishing city.

Birmingham Smithfield
Cushman & Wakefield