Where's the civic pride this city used to have?
Your article 'Birmingham unveils all-star shortlist for library landmark' (AJ 14.3.02), notes that the proposed Library of Birmingham will 'replace' the existing Central Library, which is, in fact, to be demolished and its site sold for commercial redevelopment. It is claimed that this will be 'another step in Birmingham's revitalisation' and 'contribute to the city's bid for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2008'.
The Central Library is a very fine building barely 30 years old by leading local practice John Madin Partnership. Planned around a central court, with cruciform concrete columns and coffered ceilings, and with an inverted zigguratical profile, it follows the model of Boston City Hall and, more distantly, of Le Corbusier's La Tourette. It has a powerful and effective presence in Chamberlain Square alongside the Art Gallery and City Hall.
One would have thought that Birmingham's claim to be a 'Capital of Culture' would be asserted more effectively by careful custodianship of a local product of this quality than by importing another design from a somewhat predictable shortlist of international celebrities. But on the contrary, the existing building gives the impression of having been seriously misused, its courtyard cluttered with extract ducting and glazed over in a way that darkens the reading rooms, only to provide a home for a tacky collection of fastfood outlets.
Whether removing the library from its central location to one more convenient for the rebuilt BullRing shopping centre will contribute to 'Birmingham's revitalisation' is a further question.
Civic architecture of the quality of the Central Library should be cherished and listed - the refurbishment of Birmingham's Hippodrome theatre of 1895 onwards is documented in the same issue of the AJ. The Central Library would well merit an application of the civic pride that used to characterise the city.
James Dunnett, London