The Culture Show: The People's Palace / BBC / 2013

The Culture Show: The People's Palace / BBC / 2013


It achieves most of its ambitions. It is a heartening statement of the importance of knowledge in the heart of a big city. Its claims for accessibility are convincing, but it doesn't condescend. It has both openness and dignity. The goldy-glittery exterior is a bit Vegas, but it stays this side of trashiness. The interior of atrium and escalators could be like a shopping mall, but it isn't. ➡︎

One of the things I was very keen on was to make a good floor. It's an elevated floor but it really feels like a strong floor. With 10,000 people coming through a day it has be robust and practical, but it should not look like an airport or a shopping mall. It's ceramic, so it's a little bit like marble, but it beautifully reflects the light coming in. So the floor, the ceilings with the good acoustics, the different kinds of light and the façade, that's the building, and then the rest is flexible. ➡︎

"I knew libraries and theatres," says Houben. "But I did not know Birmingham." On visits to Britain's second city, she began to notice architectural "incidents". At the outset, she wrote: "For sure, we do not want to design a building that is just another 'incident'. We want to make a building that brings coherence to the urban network of Birmingham."
Tracing the skyline you can see "incidents" all over the place – the ICC; the catastrophic Cube by Make; Future Systems' Selfridges, which looks like it is impatiently waiting for the rest of the city to join it in the future; Demetri Porphyrios's red-brick palazzo building that stands over the canal at Brindley Place and plants pseudo-historic Italy into this perplexing mix. Identifying the need for coherence, and not another incident, Houben sought inspiration in the fabric of the city: "Red bricks, blue bricks, steel and the craftsmanship of industry." How she used these influences is more of a moot point. 

What of the old Central Library at nearby Paradise Circus by John Madin (Blueprint 314, May 2012)? The manly inverted brutalist ziggurat, completed in 1972, has dramatically divided opinion, and thrice been refused heritage listing. Before it shut, its interiors were claustrophobic and dilapidated, natural light through its central atrium ineffective, and its toilets graced with discarded beer cans. Nevertheless, an internal excitement cut through its heavy massings, and bright eateries animated its atrium. Demolition is imminent. Asked not to comment by Birmingham City, Houben nevertheless notes its similarity to Kallman, McKinnell and Knowles' Boston City Hall (1968). She went in many times, she reports, and admits 'of course it's special, but it's very complicated with the public space around it.' She adds that 'people need daylight. It's not good for a library to be dark inside.' One Birmingham librarian went a little further, saying: 'It was like a coffin.' ➡︎

Those who choose to view Wearing’s sculpture as championing the erasure of fathers and broken Britain miss the point. We now have gay marriage, single people can adopt, 30% of primary school pupils are from ethnic minorities and one in 10 of us are in interracial relationships. For many of us, the nuclear family, with all its race, sexuality and class implications isn’t something we can identify with. ➡︎


 The Library of Birmingham

✖︎ Library of Birmingham / Mecanoo / 2013

▶︎ Flythrough video Library of Birmingham (2 mins) / Mecanoo / 2011

◼︎ Mecanoo's Central Library in Birmingham / Oriel Prizeman / The Architectural Review / 2013

◼︎ A new chapter for librarie / Edwin Heathcote / Financial Times / 2013

◼︎ The Library of Birmingham / Hugh Pearman / 2013

◼︎ Birmingham's new library is a modern behemoth that encases the past / Oliver Wainwright / The Guardian / 2013

◼︎ The new Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo Architecten / Jessica Klingelfuss / Wallpaper / 2013

◼︎ Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo / Amy Frearson / Dezeen / 2013

◼︎ Mecanoo: Library of Birmingham / Domus / 2013

◼︎ Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo / Ellis Woodman / BD Online / 2013

◼︎ Birmingham library isn't a building; it's an advertisement / Stephen Bayley / The Telegraph / 2013

Ikon Gallery


◼︎ Library of Birmingham – Review / Rowan Moore / The Observer / 2013

◼︎ "Libraries are the most important public buildings" - Francine Houben / Amy Frearson / Dezeen / 2013

◼︎ Mecanoo’s Library of Birmingham / Owen Pritchard / Icon / 2014

◼︎ Robe and Crown: Birmingham's New Library / Herbert Wright / Blueprint / 2013

◼︎ Hooray for single mothers – and Gillian Wearing’s celebration of them / Lola Okolosie / The Guardian / 2014

First look at Birmingham's new £188m 'bling' library: Video tour / The Guardian / 2013

First look at Birmingham's new £188m 'bling' library: Video tour / The Guardian / 2013

Flâneur III: Benjamin’s Shadow / Torben Skjødt Jensen / 1998

Flâneur III: Benjamin’s Shadow / Torben Skjødt Jensen / 1998