Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

Controversial skin of Mecanoo’s Birmingham City Library goes on


These are the first pictures of the contentious façade of Mecanoo’s £188.8 million Birmingham City Library which began being lifted into place yesterday (10 August)

Back in 2009 the ‘delciate metal filigree’ cladding, featuring a series of interweaving circles, was criticised by CABE for ‘not having evolved beyond an initial abstract idea’ and for failing to have a major practical function (see CABE’s design review report here).

Readers also noted the similarities between the façade design for the Birmingham library and another design by Mecanoo for an International Criminal Court in the Hague (Spot the difference: Mecanoo’s metal guru - AJ 09.04.09).

However the practice has always claimed that the overlapping aluminium rings - which will cover the library from the first to the eighth floor - were inspired by‘the gasometers, tunnels, canals and viaducts which fuelled Birmingham’s industrial growth’.

Yesterday Francine Houben, founding partner of Mecanoo Architecten, maintained ‘the circular pattern of the metal framework the Library of Birmingham honoured the city’s industrial heritage, in particular the craftsmanship in metal work’.

She added: ‘For me the circles symbolise unity, and relate well to the purpose of the metal frieze, unifying the different functions within the building with one gesture and expressing openness to the public.’

Each section of the cladding is formed of 5.4m diameter black rings, with silver circles of 1.8m diameter.


Due to open in Summer 2013, the Library of Birmingham will have ten floors with nine above ground and a lower ground floor. The building will boast a’spacious entrance’ and foyer with mezzanine, the gateway to both the Library and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, a new flexible studio theatre, a lower ground level with indoor terraces, four further public levels and two outdoor garden terraces.

A ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage will occupy two levels of the building, within which the city’s collection of archives, photography and rare books will be stored. A new exhibition space will open up public access to the collections for the first time. This golden box will be formed from gold coloured anodised aluminium panels, the metallic finish changing hue depending on weather and sunlight conditions. The archives storage will also be surrounded by high performance insulation to protect the Library’s archive collections.

At the summit, a rooftop rotunda will house the Shakespeare Memorial Room, which was originally part of Birmingham’s Victorian library, and a viewing gallery where visitors will be able to look down at the city below. An outdoor amphitheatre in Centenary Square will also provide a performance space for music, drama, poetry reading storytelling and more, providing a vibrant new dimension to Centenary Square.’

Previous story (AJ 14.12.10)

New images of Mecanoo’s Birmingham City Library released

These are the latest pictures of the interior of Mecanoo’s Birmingham City Library which is currently under construction

The images were released to mark the first anniversary of the start of building work on the library which will replace the soon-to-be-demolished 1970s City Library by John Madin.

The main service cores of the building, which is set to open its doors in 2013, are now in place and the lower floor structures have ‘begun to take shape’.

Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: ‘The project is running on time and with savings in the budget, and this is testament to the hard work of the project team and our construction partners.

‘The images released prove that the Library of Birmingham will be a people’s palace at the heart of the city, offering the clearest indication of what the building will offer upon completion.’

Previous story (AJ 26.11.09)

Mecanoo’s Birmingham City Library wins go-ahead

Plans for a new central library for Birmingham, the replacement for the soon-to-be-demolished 1970s City Library, have been granted planning permission

The £193 million mega-library, designed by Dutch practice Mecanoo, was given the go-ahead by Birmingham City Council today (26 November) just days after architecture minister Margaret Hodge’s controversial decision not to list the existing brutalist library by John Madin (click here for earlier story).

The approval comes despite CABE having recently voiced concerns over a number of major issues with the proposals – including fears the scheme would be value-engineered.

The new library will be located on Centenary Square, between Baskerville House and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (REP), which it will adjoin at ground floor and mezzanine levels. The council claims the competition-winning scheme will become a ‘unique centre for learning, information and culture’, attracting 10,000 visitors a day, twice that of the existing library. During its construction, the library project also aims to create 250 construction jobs, 10 per cent of which will be apprenticeships.

The new facility will provide more public access to the archives

The new building is said to have been designed to ‘function flexibly around rapidly developing new digital technologies’ as well as providing space for the library’s archives, photography collections and fine printing. The local authority also says it will provide more public access to the archives as well as opportunities to display visiting exhibitions.

Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham City Council said: ”The new Library of Birmingham will be an iconic landmark, and a testament to the role we will play in the 21st century as a truly global city. I am delighted that today’s decision supports our plans to push forwards, and start building.
‘We are juxtaposing culture and regeneration on a far greater scale than any other UK city. Through the strategic investment of £193m, into a landmark for the region, we will lever in millions of pounds of investment. Already people are excited about the confidence we have in our future, and want to be a part of our story.’

The library is scheduled to open to the public in 2013.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Ugly ugly ugly "fashion" architecture.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Congratulations Birmingham City Council - you are now the laughing stock of the British nation for having approved this monstrous refuse-incinerator masquerading as a new library.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Stick on window dressing - hardly architecture.
    Can't wait to see the aluminium pins to stop pigeons nesting installed throughout!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • and the dirty windows? or perhaps they all hinge from the facade or just leave them dirty - it is a library after all and no doubt cuts will determine maintenance. Did CDM get a look in?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Far too many architect's try to post-rationalise their design with a tenuous concept idea.

    The concept here is "Because we liked it" or "Because we didn't know what else to do".

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

Discover architecture career opportunities. Search and apply online for your dream job.
Find out more