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Library of Birmingham


In the summer of 2013, the centre of Birmingham will experience a change when the Library of Birmingham is ready. The new central library will become the city’s centre for culture and information. It will integrate into the famous adjoining theatre called Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The REP). The plan is for the library and theatre to work together so that they can offer audiences new and exciting events. The Library of Birmingham is the flagship for the major plans that will renew Birmingham over the next 20 years. The goal is to make the library the social heart of the city.The old central library built in the early 1970s has no longer been able to adapt to modern requirements and required services. The Library of Birmingham will update the central library to meet the needs of the new millennium as the centre of understanding, innovation, learning, information and culture. The Library of Birmingham represents lifelong learning within everyone’s reach. The designers of the library promise to utilise the most recent technology together with resourceful conventional knowledge in order to make the library the world’s best public library.


The library will be built between two gorgeous buildings: the Art-deco styled Baskerville House with office facilities and the REP theatre mentioned earlier. The library will have ten floors with one underground and one a small rotunda on the roof. The building has a wide entrance and there is a hall on the intermediate floor, which also serves as the connecting gallery between the library and theatre. The lower level floor has interior terraces. In addition, there are four public library floors and two garden terraces outside.

Two floors are reserved for the so-called “golden box”. This is a protected archive for storing the internationally significant collection of documents, photographs and rare old books of Birmingham. A state-of-the-art exhibition space will be opened to public so that everybody will have the possibility to view these collections for the first time. The rooms of the golden box will be covered with golden-coloured aluminium panels and the panel shade will vary beautifully with the changes in weather and sunlight. The archive will be surrounded with highly efficient insulation to protect the valuable collection.


To top it off, the roof-level rotunda will host the Shakespeare Memorial Room! The memorial room was originally part of Birmingham’s Victorian library. The top floor also has a viewing platform on the roof, where visitors can admire vistas over the city. The roofless amphitheatre on the Centary Square next to the Library of Birmingham offers a performance space for music, drama, poetry reading, story-telling and other events. The amphitheatre provides a new, lively dimension to the Centary Square. This relaxed space for leisure-time activities will be built using environmentally friendly methods and catering to the needs of families with children.

Building the Library of Birmingham will cost £188.8 million or €215.6 million. A festive moment was experienced when the first of large metal ornaments were lifted onto the library façade on 10 August 2011. The glass outer walls of the library will be entirely covered with delicate metal filigree ornaments, which have thin metal threads attached to a round lace-like frame. Passers-by can admire as the ornaments are lifted one-by-one onto the outer walls during the upcoming months.


The superimposed aluminium circles of two sizes will spread from the first floor of the library all the way to the final eighth floor. Only the Shakespeare Memorial Room and naturally the underground floor will be left without the aluminium circles. Each impressive ornament is formed by a black circle, which is 5.4 metres in diameter, with a joining silver ring, 1.8 metres in diameter. The design of the library’s exterior brings to mind gas holders, tunnels, channels and viaducts, which have all fuelled the industrial growth of Birmingham in the past.

One of the founding partners, architect Francine Houben said eloquently: “The circular ornaments of the metal frames on the exterior wall of the library are a tribute to the city’s industrial traditions and especially to metalwork craftsmanship. They are a symbol of unity for me. They mesh well with the building’s metal frieze. Figuratively the metal circles and frieze unite the building’s different purposes as if into one gesture that exudes openness.”


Birmingham is the second biggest city in England and the United Kingdom. It is situated in the West Midlands metropolitan county in central England. The city has over a million residents and when including the suburbs over two and half millions. One famous sight of the city is formed by its canals, which outnumber those in Venice. Today, the city is famous for its multiculturalism, since almost a third of its residents has an immigrant background. In line with the new library, the city’s motto is “forward”.

The website of the Library of Birmingham (Scroll down for more information.)

You can already take a stroll inside the library, since it has been built virtually in Second Life. See a video presentation of the virtual library.


Text: Elisa Helenius

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