First look at Birmingham's new £188m 'bling' library: Video tour / The Guardian / 2013
Moving upwards along the neon elevators, the building becomes more composed. The procession through the spaces is flanked by books – there are 400,000 of them on display. They become rarer and more valuable as you travel upwards – and the architecture reflects this. As visitors emerge into the circular reference libraries, with their dark shelving and balconies, the atmosphere becomes more scholarly. This is the most dramatic moment in the building, as the sky becomes visible for the first time. Here the building bulges the most, shifting its edges beyond its footprint and over the square below. Visitors are pushed to the margins of the space, to sit among the intricate shadows cast by the steel cladding, protecting the sober interior from the chaos of the city outside. "This is my favourite moment in the building," says Houben, looking out at the city beyond. "I could sit here all day and watch the light change.” ➡︎
Although Madin’s building was hailed in 1976 by the architect/librarian assessors of the Library Association as an exemplar which ‘must, in future, form a reference point to which others responsible for new libraries should turn’, in a BBC documentary A Vision of Britain, Prince Charles famously redefined it in 1988 as ‘a place where books are incinerated, not kept’. His statement almost certainly underpins Hodge’s confidence in contradicting English Heritage.
Yet disturbingly, the 1974 review in The Architects’ Journal might well be confused with one of the new building: ‘It is perhaps the use of escalators that keys the building’s success … one glides through the succession of volumes smoothly, sleekly.
The impression is of one space flowing into the next within the depth of the huge structure, from the bright bustle of the lending library to the solid quiet of the study areas. Experience of the interior is therefore complete in a way that must be rare in this age. Few buildings can be so magically free of irritatingly endless series of wire-glass fire doors, to be met everywhere in public buildings’ (22 May 1974). ➡︎
The building’s other significant expansion of the Athletic Club model is its means of vertical circulation. The six uppermost floors – the narrowest – are reliant on lift access but those below are of a size that enables a more expansive connection. Like multiple echoes of the circular courtyard in the square – and offering a nod to such precedents as Smirke’s reading room in London and Asplund’s in Stockholm – four rotundas rise up the building. Varying in size, they overlap in plan only partly but allow light to filter down and air to be drawn up by stack effect. They also frame escalators that slice across at varying angles, forging a journey of Piranesian theatricality from the ground floor to the fourth. ➡︎
But we actually designed the building from the interior. I'm very much into landscaping and as a landscaping architect you try to create your own world. You try to hide what you don't want to see. So in the amphitheatre you create your own world, and on the terraces you create your own panorama and you think you're in the hills. When you enter, you feel enclosed by the building. ➡︎
◼︎ Mecanoo’s Library of Birmingham / Owen Pritchard / Icon / 2014
◼︎ Mecanoo's Central Library in Birmingham / Oriel Prizeman / The Architectural Review / 2013
◼︎ Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo / Ellis Woodman / BD Online / 2013
◼︎ "Libraries are the most important public buildings" - Francine Houben / Amy Frearson / Dezeen / 2013