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

John Lewis


Construction of a new A1 department store including ancillary customer facilities (including customer cafes and restaurants and other customer services) set over four floors, and the construction of two A3 retail units at concourse level, three A1 retail units at hinterland (ground floor) level and three A1 retail units at the lower retail level. The proposed development also includes: demolition work to facilitate construction, provision of drop-off and pick-up areas, extension of the public concourse with a reconfigured access lift and ramp and extension to the public NCP car park on the roof level and ancillary services and facilities. 

Work on the John Lewis store is well underway and it is due to be launched in Autumn 2014 in conjunction with the rebranding of the Pallasades as Grand Central.

As the planning statement indicates they have demolished Stephenson Tower [Youtube] and this project is part of the wider New Street Gateway project.  

Below is the view from Hill Street, the steps that can be seen to the right of the road are currently in place, and form the present exit out of the Phase I redevelopment of the station towards Southside.

In the southern elevation pictures the taxi rank can be made out, which is planned to have space for 32 taxis to be queued at.

In the planning application there are details about the glazing that may be used, which can be seen in the renders and the close up detailing can be seen below.

This specific pattern is currently proposed as a screen print to the sealed inside faces of the double glazing. The gap between the patterns will enable two distinct perceptions of the building depending on how close the viewer is to the glazed facade (see Fig 4t):

• When viewed from a distance, the resultant envelope of the department store is a translucent, shimmering veil that allows for partial views into the department store and the partial penetration of light and view out of the department store while maintaining flexibility for the interior displays.

• When viewed close up internally from the sales floor the diamond pattern emerges providing the glass facade a distinctive and crystalline appearance recalling the many silver and glass etched surfaces included in the early JLP catalogues.

Construction Pictures
28 May 2013

Icknield Port Loop


Outline planning application for demolition of buildings and a mixed use redevelopment of up to 1150 dwellings, retail, service, employment, leisure and non-residential institutions uses (Use Class C3, B1, A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, D1 & D2) of up to 6960 square metres (gross internal area) (including up to 2500 square metres of retail) (gross internal area) together with hotel and community facilities, open space, landscaping and associated works including roads, cycleways, footpaths, car parking and canal crossings. Change of use of industrial buildings fronting Rotton Park Street to leisure, retail and non-residential institutions (Use Class A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, B1, D1 & D2)

Icknield Port Loop is a recently approved outline plan for a new housing development that will include a hotel, pub, supermarket and a community centre. The site has been identified for many years as being a suitable place for development.  It is located between Edgbaston and Ladywood, just near Edgbaston reservoir, and its main feature is the the Icknield Port Loop canal that runs through the site.

What makes this site different to most new housing developments is the fact that it is close to the city centre (just a 10 minute walk from NIA along the canal), and that it will be a mixture of housing densities. The plans indicate that it won’t be run of the mill semi detached houses, and that whilst there will be apartments on the site they won’t be in the majority. Instead the site will have some innovative housing types that are shown further below.

The revised Design & Access Statement (Part I and Part II) have addressed some earlier concerns with the original plan and include a wider canal path around the side (as opposed to no path, and just houses being up to the waters edge on both side).

Due to the mix of densities proposed there are quite a few different housetypes proposed, the most controversial type proposed in the plan, and whilst they mention how they are popular in the Netherlands there has been some comparison to the Victorian back-to-backs.

“I am not convinced that people want courtyard living, particularly if you share the space with a noisy family. Wherever they are in the world these things quickly become slums.”
Councillor Barry Henley

Though the site also has some modern interpretations of terraced and other low density houses such as the monument type.  Overall the feeling from the outline plan is that the mixture of densities will give the area its own distinct zones and have their own communities, but are joined together through the use of the parkland and canal network.

It’s certainly better than the current cleared land, and hopefully construction will get under way in 2013, in a phased approach.  The overall intention is ‘to create by 2025, a high-quality, family orientated, sustainable and mixed use waterside neighbourhood’, and I think these plans will help improve the area as a whole.

Courtyard houses

These are based on the Dutch model. We are showing one type that works as a back to back with an internal parking space and courtyard and a roof garden. Another type works as a through house backing onto the canal.

Waterside Houses:

These are houses that fill the entire plot and run from the back of pavement to the waters edge. They include an internal courtyard and parking and roof gardens plus the possibility of a private mooring.

‘Monument Houses’ – Modern terraced housing in the lower density areas:

Paradise Circus Redevelopment


Outline planning application (all matters reserved save for access) for demolition of all buildings on the site (save for the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial) and commercial led mixed use redevelopment of up to 170,012 square metres gross internal floorspace, comprising offices (Use Class B1a), retail and leisure units (Use Classes A1/A2/A3/A4/A5/D1/D2), concert hall (D2), energy centre (Sui Generis), together with a hotel of up to 250 bedrooms (Use Class C1), car parking, highways works (to include the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory), public realm improvements and associated works including alterations to public rights of way.

The Paradise Circus redevelopment is a contentious one, mainly due to the presence of the Birmingham Central Library which was designed by John Madin and is set to be demolished if the plans get approved.  Though the building has been recommended for local listing by English Heritage, it has never achieved that status and the council have a Certificate of Immunity order on the building, preventing it from being listed.

The council have established an exclusivity agreement with Argent, who were behind the creation of Brindleyplace, with a view to sign a joint venture relationship for the redevelopment of the site once planning permission has been granted.
Whilst we await the final decision regarding the outline, it was interesting to see how the current plans look from a historical perspective.  As well as seeing how the proposal brings the area back to the public, both from an ease of access routes (especially down Congreve Passage to Summer Row) and also improvements to the public realm with two new squares, and the improvement to Chamberlain Square.

Town Hall and Council House - March 1921 (Britain From Above)

Whilst the future of the Central Library is an evocative topic, it cannot be ignored that the site plan does not facilitate access through it, or around it.  Areas such as Fletchers Walk, Paradise Place towards Summer Row, and Congreve passage are not the most accessible. Looking at the plans it shows that consideration has been given to the pedestrian flow, and there are a lot more ways to navigate across the site.
One of the main changes to the road layout is the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory (i.e the bit that runs under the Library).  There are also quite a lot of roads that would need to be reconfigured because of this.
Recently on 11 October 2012 the council Planning Committee met, and an item on the agenda was to discuss issues related to the planning application [PDF], this revealed some potential S106 planing obligations including:
  • Transport contribution – to include works to facilitate the next phases of Metro and contributions to public transport including Interconnect (new bus shelters and totem signage)
  • Public realm improvements – in particular to Chamberlain Square, Town Hall surroundings and Centenary Square – approximately £2.65m
  • Contributions to Wayfinding signage both into and around the site – £180,000
  • Easy Row subway improvements linking through to Arena Central – approximately £150,000.