Contemporary architecture

The Library of Birmingham- A new kind of library for the 21st century?

Photos & initial impressions following a visit to the new library.

Library of Birmingham Header

It’s been almost 2 months since the new Library of Birmingham by Dutch Architects Mecanoo was opened to the public. I visited it last month and overall I was really impressed especially by the interior space. I have always had a soft spot for John Madins brutalist Central Library and think it is a mistake for it to be demolished so I had mixed feelings about the new library. I cringed during its construction as the gold cladding and lattice framework was erected but decided to reserve judgement until it was complete. I’m glad I did because even though the exterior finish is not to my own personal taste I think it is a fantastic building.

Is this Willy Wonkas Great Glass Elevator? Central atrium and glass lift to the Shakespeare Room

Is this Willy Wonkas Great Glass Elevator?
Central atrium and glass lift to the Shakespeare Room

The central atrium rising up through the floors and ending with a ‘Charlie in the Chocolate Factory’ style glass elevator leading to the sky is quite something! The views across the city from the roof terraces and secret garden also make up for the hideous gold cladding. I’m still not sure if I like the lattice framework and I find the Architects reasoning behind it as being a link to Birmingham’s Industrial past a little contrived. However it is slowly growing on me and certainly provides some interesting photos.

The main reason why I think it is a fantastic building is more to do with the buzz and atmosphere the place generated when I visited more so than the physical appearance. Walking around the building and terraces I felt like I was in a different city and it was thriving with activity and people. Every floor seemed to hold a new surprise and there were some interesting contrasts between the rectangular geometry of the main building form and the circular interiors- there does to seem be a slight obsession with circles…they are everywhere!

I didn’t get to explore all of the library on my visit but hope to go back soon and discover more especially the legendary Shakespeare Room sitting atop the building.

The Library of Birmingham

The Secret Garden Roof Terrace

I think regardless of whether you are a fan of the new library architecturally or not there is no denying that a building like this will be good for the city. Questions have been raised about the value of a library in our current digital times- will this building typology become obsolete? I don’t see the new library as a place to merely house books but as a place for learning, whether that be from books, exhibitions, digital media or the spoken word. The library does appear to have plenty of facilities to house new kinds of medium for learning as well as a diary full of future events. The one fear I do have is that the architectural style is very much of the moment and could look outdated very quickly. Birmingham does have this habit of producing these ‘iconic’ buildings such as Future Systems Selfridges building and The Cube by MAKE which are overly loud and brash with garish colours and cladding which look outdated before they have even been completed. I think a more subtle use of colour, omitting the gold cladding and a more stepped profile instead of the boxy form would have stood the test of time better but hey only time will tell! Then again this is a little rich coming from me as one of my favourite public buildings in the city is John Madins Central Library and you can’t get more bold and controversial than that building!

I just hope the new library is used to its full potential and lives up it’s promise as a library for the 21st Century.

Here are some pictures from my visit below and more are available on my Flickr stream:

The Lending Library at Ground level- lovely polished concrete columns.

The Lending Library at Ground level- lovely polished concrete columns.

The Library of Birmingham

Lots & lots of circles!

Library of Birmingham

Even though the exterior form is square and linear (apart from the cladding) the inside is obsessed with circles, circular atrium, offset circular escalator well, circular columns, circular book rotunda…..

The Library of Birmingham

View from the roof terrace across the Birmingham Skyline with the Alpha Tower, Orion Buildings and The Cube in view.

The Library of Birmingham

Central Atrium

The Library of Birmingham

View from Broad Street



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