Library of Birmingham

People

Fundamental to the design concept for the Library of Birmingham is the belief that libraries bring diverse groups of citizens together to enhance the economic and cultural vitality of the communities they serve. They not only link the past, present and future, but they also act as cultural icons for their communities, standing as a testament to a community’s commitment to their future. The Library of Birmingham is the city’s new cultural heart, blending its character into its programming and design, and connecting people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. As the city’s “cathedral” of knowledge and learning, key features in its design methodology – including an intense community and stakeholder involvement – have facilitated the community investment that now stands proudly over Centenary Square.

Place

Birmingham’s Centenary Square formerly lacked urban cohesion or a clear identity. The design has transformed it in an expression of three distinct realms: monumental, cultural and entertainment. Three palazzos celebrate a historic and urban narrative; the Repertory Theatre (REP – 1970), the Library of Birmingham (2013) and Baskerville House, a listed sandstone building (1936). Designed to be an extension of the street, the library is a profoundly public experience blurring building and pedestrian path. Its cantilever is not only a large canopy that provides shelter at the common entrance of the library and the Repertory Theatre, but also forms a grand city balcony offering views of the square below.

The library’s key public void, a circular patio recessed into the square, affords glimpses of the inner library world, drawing people inside and inspiring them to embark on a journey of discovery. Moving from one floor to the next through interconnected rotundas that serve as the main vertical circulation route, visitors see ever changing vistas unfold through its delicate filigree skin of interlocking circles. The filigree screen is inspired by the artisan tradition of this once industrial city and plays out in shadows and reflections on the library’s walls and floors.

Purpose

A ‘people’s palace’, the Library of Birmingham is a center of learning, information and culture that helps to foster the city’s knowledge economy. Developed in cooperation with Birmingham City Council, with an education-focused brief as a place of learning and community, it includes several auditoria and multimedia spaces. The library is the key promoter of the ‘knowledge city’, linking the people of Birmingham to the world and bringing the world to Birmingham.

Through integrated design strategies, the Library of Birmingham has achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating and maintains long term energy efficiency through the buffering capacity of the building mass and the atria. The addition of soft landscaped roof spaces further enhances the immediate surroundings.

Here architecture, urban design, and engineering work in concert: elevators and escalators placed dramatically in the rotundas of the library not only draw connections between the eight circular spaces within the building but they create a library experience that is socially vibrant, comfortable and inspiring. An average of 10,000 visitors per day is testament to that.

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