The original Mailbox in Birmingham was designed by R. H. Ousman of the Ministry of Public Building and Works, who collaborated with project architect H. A. E. Giddings and Hubbard Ford & Partners. The building was completed in 1970 and was the largest mechanised letters and parcels sorting office in the country with a floor area of 20 acres (81,000 m2) and the largest building in Birmingham. A tunnel connected the Mailbox to New Street station allowing the direct transfer of mail to the sorting office.
The following photograph shows the original exterior
In 2000 the Mailbox when through its first redevelopment after its mail sorting duties were relocated, Associated Architects were responsible for the design. The development by the Birmingham Development Company included two hotels with a total of 300 rooms, 15,850 sq. m (170,000 sq. ft.) of office space, 9,290 sq. m (100,000 sq ft.) of retail space and a similar area for restaurants and a health club.
A central open street was formed through the building connecting New Street Station to the canal network at Salvage Wharf. On opening the street was lined with upmarket shops many of whom left to take up residence at the new Bullring shopping centre when this opened in 2004. The open nature of the public street left it susceptible to the miserable British weather creating an unfavourable environment for serious retail therapy.
In 2013 it was announced that the Mailbox would undergo a further major redevelopment to be designed by Sterling prize winning architects Stanton Williams.
In 2015 the Mailbox re opened with the central street now covered with a glazed roof forming an enhanced shopping experience. The redevelopment has attracted upmarket stores such as L.K.Bennett, Jaeger, Hugo Boss and Gieves and Hawkes back to the development with more to follow. The Harvey Nichols store has been relocated from the front of the Mailbox to the rear and doubled in size to 45,000 sq. ft.
The following photgraphs are all from a recent visit by Fleming James Architects:
The main shopping street is now named the Urban Room which has been set up as a space for people to stop and linger with the view to spending more time in the space. Our photographs were taken on a week day morning so there were very few people about. It will be interesting to re-visit on a weekend and see how successful the space is. A small cafe may have enhanced the seating area giving people a greater reason to stop in the space but may detract from the cafes and restaurants around the canal basin.
The ground floor is a less desirable space then the Urban Room above with some very small units addressing an empty concourse space leading through to the canal basin beyond. Many of the units are yet to be occupied but certainly seems like a less attractive proposition to retailers.
The new Mailbox is a great improvement and the addition of the simple glazed roof should make it a more pleasant shopping experience. The redevelopment of the New Street station and the introduction of Grand central (as featured in our previous blog post) has created a greater case for people to wonder over to the Mail box.