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CABE: Mecanoo's Birmingham Library 'not fully convincing'

CABE has raised a number of major issues about Mecanoo’s £193million Library of Birmingham proposals

The government’s design watchdog said it was particularly worried about the the City Council’s build procurement methods on the high-profile scheme, which was submitted for planning in August (see below), and the potential loss of ‘control over the detail’.

As well as cost-cutting fears, the commission also attacked the planned filigree façade which it said had ‘not evolved beyond the initial abstract idea into a convincing detailed design proposal.’

The report reads: ‘Although this is a very promising starting point and the basic design proposition is compelling, we are concerned that at planning stage the scheme is still unresolved in many critical respects and is not yet, therefore, a fully convincing architectural proposition.

‘In the absence of more detailed information, we are unable to take it on trust that the scheme will result in the world class library the City hopes for.’

In respect of the facade detail on the competition-winning design, the commission added: ‘It is regrettable that the opportunity has not been taken for the façade to perform another practical function. If the screen is purely decorative, its budget may be at risk, whereas it is critical that the material and details are delivered to the highest quality.’

In response Birmingham City Council said it was encouraged by CABE’s ‘supportive comments on the potential’ of the scheme. However aspokesman added: ‘We are also mindful of the issues they raise about ensuring the integrity of design moving forward.

‘Whilst at this stage there are still a number of aspects of the scheme to be resolved, the plans are developed to a sufficient level of detail to satisfy all planning requirements. The design process is ongoing and Mecanoo are retained throughout the design and build process to ensure the integrity and quality of delivery of the building.’

To read the full CABE report click here

Previous story (19.08.09)

In pictures: Birmingham City Library goes to detailed planning

A detailed planning application for the new £193m Library of Birmingham has been submitted to the local planning authority

The planning application shows that the design has evolved, but not significantly changed since the concept design released by Dutch architects Mecanoo in April 2009.

The height has been reduced by one level in response to consultation and other elements of the design have been refined, such as the amphitheatre and the relationship between the library and Centenary Square. The detailed design also confirms that the historic Shakespeare Memorial Room will be located in the roof level rotunda. Further detailed design work is still continuing, with the completion of Stage D design, scheduled for September.

The new library will be spread over 10 storeys – nine above ground and a lower ground level opening out onto an amphitheatre set into Centenary Square.

The outside of the building will feature an intricately patterned steel facade. Publicly accessible terraces at the third and seventh floors will provide outdoor green spaces for a range of activities, while a ‘brown roof’ will provide a natural habitat for wildlife. At the top of the building, the aluminium-clad rotunda will have a glass facade offering views south across Centenary Square and the city beyond. It will also house ‘The Shakespeare Memorial Room’, providing a unique venue for small events and receptions featuring original 19th Century fixtures, fittings and materials.

Featuring greywater harvesting and connected to the Broad Street Combined Heat and Power Network, the building has been designed to achieve an ‘excellent’ BREEAM Rating for sustainability.

In April, AJ’s Astragal noted the striking similarities between Mecanoo’s proposals for Birmingham and its designs for the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

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