Library of Birmingham


Erection of public library (Use Class D1), together with partial demolition, refurbishment and extension of existing theatre (Sui Generis), including low carbon energy centre and associated landscaping and highway works  

Photo by Christian Richters

The Library of Birmingham is not an understated building, it proudly takes its place within Centenary Square amongst Baskerville House and The Rep. Whilst appearing dominating at first, it helps to be able to enclose the square. What was once a surface car park now has purpose.

Designed by Francine Houben and the team at Mecanoo this is a Library that will hopefully adapt with the city, and not fall by the wayside like the three others the city has had all within a short distance of this site.

The modern library is no longer solely the domain of the book – it is a place with all types of content and for all types of people.

The building aims to be a place where people can continue the journey of learning, and it shows that it is more than a place where books live. It’s a destination, a meeting place, a cafe, a viewing platform, a cinema, and of course the features we come to expect of a library.

As a library of the now and also the future, it’s an adaptable space that understands that the needs of the people it serves in 50 years time will undoubtably be different from what they are now.

After viewing the construction of this building on nearly a daily basis for three years, it was interesting to see the way it connects to the city from the inside and the terraces.  It brings a platform which we can observe, and understand the city we are in.  The ability to have the viewing galleries and outdoor space accessible to all is empowering.

Whilst the Cube may have first offered the people of Birmingham it’s views from the Marco Pierre White restaurant, it did not make it accesible to all. The Library succeeds as it belongs to the people.

The striking thing with the library from the exterior is the frieze, the filigree pattern, which is an ‘ode to the circle’, a connection to Birmingham’s reputation as the Jewellery Quarter.

It is however, also reminiscent of the frieze that was present in Mecanoo’s unsuccessful  submission for the International Criminal Court.  It is not unusual that an unused design feature has appeared again, designs are built upon and recycled, and either way it works well for this building and for the context it is set against.

When you step inside the building you begin to understand the amount of space that has been created. The multitude of levels of this building connect across the open atrium that has been created by using a series of overlapping rotundas.  At the very top you are connected to the sky, and a lift reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ready to burst out of the building.

It’s not all about heading skywards, as the building leads you down into the ground with its multitude of ‘ground’ floors and out towards the amphitheatre you can head back and observe the Library from a different vantage point.

This is designed to a be a performance space, and is in the area home to noise (both the children’s and music section). Francine said that it was ‘Essential for a building to have a piano’ and perhaps we will see it used here.

This building may not be for everyone, but it is for me. There is a lot to see and explore, and come the official opening I will be back for more.

Photo by Christian Richters

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