Travel Close to Home: Birmingham City Library (new)

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I cannot like the outside though I tried very hard. Maybe in time……

(click images to enlarge)

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About 2far2shout

outstanding in my own field OU creative writing A215 2011 slow traveller wild swimmer day dreamer Short Story winner
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6 Responses to Travel Close to Home: Birmingham City Library (new)

  1. Tish Farrell says:

    isn’t it marvellous that a local authority is actually spending money – and oh so much money – on a LIBRARY! Way-hey.

  2. adinparadise says:

    This is such an impressive piece of architecture. I wish this library had existed when I was studying in Birmingham. 🙂

    • 2far2shout says:

      I have never been inside the old library, looking drab and unloved by comparison to this glittering prize. I think this is the 5th City Library in succession. If you were studying before books were invented you would have been at a considerable disadvantage.

  3. Lucid Gypsy says:

    I think this is fab, I’d love to visit and really hope its a success, we need to keep our libraries forever.

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