All aboard the all-electric bus – architectural students hop on Outer Circle for city tour


Landscape architecture and design students from Birmingham City University swapped lecture halls for the top deck of a brand new all-electric National Express bus this week, tracing the famous number 11 Outer Circle route with social historian Carl Chinn.

The journey, organised by the University’s Professor of Landscape Architecture Kathryn Moore in partnership with National Express West Midlands and Transport for West Midlands, gave the 20 second-year Architecture, Interior Design and Landscape Architecture students an opportunity to see the city from a unique viewpoint as part of a 10-week academic challenge to reimagine Birmingham.

Aboard a sleek new Platinum 2 - on its first passenger-carrying journey – the students, accompanied by staff from the University, were treated to a bespoke tour of the city from Carl Chinn, looking at geographic, topographic, cultural, social and economic features of the 27-mile loop.

The study of the city using the bus route is being carried out as part of the West Midlands National Park (WMNP) project, launched in 2018 at Birmingham City University. The WMNP Lab is a pioneering collaborative and cross-disciplinary project in the University’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Media.

The bus, part of a new fleet commissioned by National Express West Midlands for Coventry, followed the regular route of the 11 bus, taking in many styles of architecture and examples of town planning, as well as passing city landmarks including Cadbury’s sprawling Bournville factory, Sarehole Mill, Moseley Bog, HMP Birmingham, Villa Park and even the site of the first ODEON cinema in the world.

Professor Kathryn Moore said: “It’s an incredible way to kickstart the whole project, especially as not many of the students will have been all the way around on the 11 before and may not have seen all of Birmingham yet.

Birmingham’s three rivers, the Cole, Tame and Rea, along with many of its brooks and tributaries, featured in the tour which saw the all-electric Platinum 2 vehicle in the safe hands of National Express West Midlands driver Tony Hunter, who first drove the 11 Outer Circle route in 1985.

Of particular interest to the students were various styles of architecture represented by buildings along the journey, spanning over 300 years, including medieval, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, inter and post-war, industrial, and contemporary.

Social historian Carl Chinn said: “It’s important for students both from inside and outside Birmingham to see the city as it is. You can do that in several ways – from the number 8 route for the inner city, or the number 11 for what us Brummies would call the Outer Circle, as the route encompasses nearly 27 miles of Birmingham’s landscapes, history, and peoples.”

The number 11 bus route has played an essential role in the social and cultural fabric of the city since being established in 1923. Recognised as one of the longest urban bus routes in Europe, the 11 bus and its route has been immortalised in song and dance and documented in books and prose.

Tim Bullock, Head of Partnerships at National Express West Midlands, said: “It’s fantastic that we can partner up with key institutions around the city on events like this; it just goes to show how ingrained the bus service is within the region, and how it’s played a part in Birmingham’s history.

“We’re pleased to have worked with Birmingham City University and Transport for West Midlands on what we hope has been a very useful experience for the students.”

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