The city's present day products include motor vehicles, vehicle components and accessories, weapons, electrical equipment, plastics, machine tools, chemicals, food, jewellery and glass. Scientific research (including research into nanotechnology at the University of Birmingham) is expanding in the city. Other famous brands from the "city of a thousand trades" include Bakelite, Bird's Custard, Brylcreem, BSA, Cadbury's chocolate, Chad Valley toys, Halfords, HP Sauce, Typhoo Tea and Valor.
Birmingham has over 500 law firms, and is Europe's second largest insurance market. The city attracts over 40% of the UK's total conference trade. Two of Britain's "big four" banks were founded there. Lloyds Bank (now Lloyds TSB) began in 1765 and the Midland Bank (now part of HSBC) opened in Union Street in August 1836.
In recent years Birmingham's economy has diversified into service industries, retailing, tourism and conference hosting, which are now the main employers in the city. Millions of people visit Birmingham every year, and in 2004 the city was named the second best place to shop in England after the West End of London. Attractions for visitors include Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Millennium Point, Bull Ring, Selfridges Building, Cadbury World, Tolkien Trail, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the National Sea Life Centre.
Main article: Architecture of Birmingham
City of Birmingham Council House, with Dhruva Mistry's 'The River' in the foreground (commonly known as 'the floozie in the jacuzzi')
Although Birmingham has existed as a settlement for over a thousand years, today's city is overwhelmingly a product of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, as the real growth of the city began with the Industrial Revolution. Consequently, relatively few buildings survive from its earlier history.
Traces of medieval Birmingham can be seen in the oldest churches, notably the original parish church, St Martin's in the Bullring, where a church has stood since at least the 12th century. The current church (begun around 1290) was extensively re-built in the 1870s, retaining some original walls and foundations. A few other buildings from the medieval and Tudor periods survive, among them The Old Crown public house in Digbeth, the 15th century Saracen's Head public house and Old Grammar School in Kings Norton and Blakesley Hall in Yardley.
The city grew rapidly from Georgian times and a number of buildings survive from this period. Among them are St Philip's Cathedral, originally built as a parish church, St Paul's Church in the largely Georgian St Paul's Square, Soho House in Handsworth, the home of Matthew Boulton, and Perrott's Folly in Ladywood (which is said to have later inspired J. R. R. Tolkien).
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.