The city, an entity that is seemingly unyielding to the relentless march of time, stands as a monument to human endeavor, -at least it is in Rome. A testament to a relentless human pursuit for permanence. Within the streets and structures of the City, there are echoes of memory both personal and collective. In Birmingham the city’s enduring edifices bear witness to countless possibilities of lives, their stories etched in the brick and stone inviting us to ponder the experiences that have unfolded within its fabric. Those memories that bind us to our past, find a peculiar resonance within the city’s embrace. Amidst the ceaseless flow of life, the city’s permanence serves as a repository of our collective history, a sanctuary for our individual recollections. It is a place where nostalgia finds its dwelling, where one can stroll along familiar streets and, in doing so, traverse the corridors of time; “Lee woz ere 2023”, “Children… that’s where I met your Mother…” etc.
In contemplating the concept of permanence within the city, we are confronted with a compelling paradox that lies both at the heart of modern urban existence and the practice of architecture. While the city itself stands as a testament to our collective yearning for immortality and permanence, the very practice of architecture, in its relentless pursuit of progress, in making its structure better it is easy to forget that this space is also inhabited by humans seeking permanence. Just permanence 2.0, not counting those still using sketch-up 6 to import .dwg’s for free…
The paradox inherent in modern urban existence, where the city stands as a testament to our collective yearning for immortality while the practice of architecture demands the demolition and reconstruction of its own foundations, bears a striking resemblance to the ancient symbol of the ouroboros. The ouroboros, often depicted as a serpent or dragon eating its own tail, is a symbol that has transcended cultures and epochs. It encapsulates the concept of cyclical renewal, eternal return, and the interplay of opposites. In the same vein, the modern city embodies a paradoxical cycle—a perpetual dance between creation and destruction, permanence and impermanence.
The ouroboros represents the cyclical nature of existence, where endings and beginnings are inexorably linked. Similarly, in the city’s constant evolution, the act of tearing down the old to make way for the new is a reflection of this eternal cycle. It underscores the idea that, in the grand scheme of history, the city itself endures, while individual buildings and structures rise and fall like waves in the ocean. In both cases, there is an underlying tension between the desire for permanence and the recognition of impermanence. The city’s grand architecture and enduring landmarks symbolize our collective yearning to leave a lasting legacy, much like the ouroboros representing the eternal. However, the city’s continual reconstruction reminds us that even our most ambitious creations are bound by the cyclical forces of time and change.
In essence, the paradox of modern urban existence and the symbolism of the ouroboros converge in their profound meditation on the interplay of permanence and impermanence, creation and destruction. They both invite us to contemplate the cyclical nature of life, to recognize the beauty in the eternal return, and to find meaning in the ever-changing landscape of our existence. Whether through the ancient symbol or the contemporary city, we are reminded that the quest for immortality is intertwined with the acceptance of our own transitory nature. Here then on September 29th 2023 the morning after Birmingham City Council voted to demolish Smallbrook Queensway in Birmingham City Center, we find ourselves standing on a threshold -a liminal space- between memory and imagination, contemplating the loss of the familiar, the memories and experiences associated with a place whilst we try to imagine and intervene with an indeterminate and imagined future, I hope there is music there.