The firms are understood to have beaten Laing in a final showdown for the Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners-designed Millennium Point, near the city centre. An announcement is expected on Monday.
The project had a shortlist of three, but Shepherd was eliminated in earlier bidding.
There has been some controversy over the procurement route for the landmark scheme, which is to be built under a design-and-build contract.
However, it is thought that Grimshaw's concept design will be protected because the architect will oversee the design work of Mason Richards, the architect in the Galliford/Christiani team, and will report directly to the client.
Project sources say that the joint venture is front-runner because of the quality and price of its bid, even though the firms have less of a track record than Laing on star architects' buildings.
The firms prequalified on the basis of smaller, high-quality projects. Christiani, in particular, has experience of working on complex civils structures for top designers.
Millennium Point is expected to start on site early in April for an opening in September 2001.
The project client is a charitable trust that includes the city council, the University of Central England and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. It has £50m of lottery funding, plus European Union, English Partnerships and bank loan cash.
The project, to be built on a cleared site formerly occupied by goods yards and 1960s offices at Digbeth, is split into four phases. These are:
- a discovery centre, where people can learn about technology and science
- a museum of science and industry
- a technology and innovation centre, which is an educational initiative for lifelong learning
- a "university" for children aged 11-14.
Mace is project manager, Bucknall Austin quantity surveyor and Buro Happold engineer.
Galliford has also been awarded a £22m contract to build a McArthurGlen retail outlet at Ashford, Kent. Richard Rogers Partnership provided the concept for the 20 000 m sq scheme.