On September 3rd 2013 The City of Birmingham Public Library opened its revolving doors to the public. Sitting high on Centenary Square, the £188 million confection designed by Dutch architects Mecannoo, is the largest building of its kind in Europe; typical for a youthful confident proud city that is Birmingham today.
I like buildings to show something of their function in their form but this stack of shoe boxes wrapped by a curtain wall of interlocking circles has me scratching my head. The circles are supposed to represent the interconnectedness of this busy multi-cultural city though it looks more like inexpensive wrapping paper. I think that works but the boxiness does little to invite the curious onlooker.
My first encounter found the entrance shared with the Birmingham Rep preparing to put on a show; theatre goers and visiting school children, visitors looking for repast at several restaurants/cafes created an unwelcome chaos, that is until I was lifted by a blue neon escalator into a cathedral-like calm, a grown-up heaven
I had expected to find the shoe-boxiness of the exterior to be echoed in the interior. But no, thankfully. The interior is a series of circle and elypses pierced though with escalators and travelators. At the top of this confection reached by a clear glass elevator tube where lies the Shakespeare Archive and several collections of priceless books and manuscripts in a gold gift-wrapped hotbox. Its difficult to imagine the beautifully finished dark circular and radiating book enclosures belong to the rectangle stack of boxes outside.
There are some 800,000 books on ten floors in the day-lit, naturally ventilated, several cafes, roof terraces, an art gallery and a bewildering selection of places to read, listen and watch, some private and some sociable.
It’s a cool building in more than one sense. Materials and finishes make for a welcoming spaces that works for users of all ages, ethnicity and purpose who seem comfortable and able to find a space to suit their needs. Its a building that offers choices to its uses, rare in public buildings.
It’s refreshing to find a building that doesn’t tell you what not to do. Though brand new, built on time and below budget, it’s a grown up building that respects its user and in time they will, I’m sure, respect it in return.
I cannot like the outside though I tried very hard. Maybe in time……
(click images to enlarge)