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Mecanoo unwraps Birmingham City Library

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Dutch practice Mecanoo’s £193 million Birmingham City Library opens to the public next week (3 September).

The controversial building stands in Centenary Square, between Baskerville House (above right) and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (REP, above left) on the site of a former car park. The nine-storey landmark will replace John Madin’s soon-to-be-demolished Brutalist 1970s building as the city’s central library.

Clad with a skin of overlapping aluminium rings ‘inspired by the artisan tradition of this once industrial city’, the facade was criticised by CABE for ‘not having evolved beyond an initial abstract idea’ and for failing to have a major practical function (AJ 08.10.09).

Internally the 35,000m² library is arranged around a circular atrium that changes in size as it rises through the building.

A ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage, which contains the city’s collection of archives, photography and rare books, occupies two upper levels of the building, with the Shakespeare Memorial Room, a Victorian reading room lined with wood from the first Birmingham Central Library at the top of the building. Two roof gardens allow visitors to look down into the square, where an amphitheatre acts as a performance space. A new flexible studio theatre is shared with the recently refurbished 1971 REP building next door.

Mecanoo, headed by shortlisted AJ Woman Architect of the Year 2013 Francine Houben, won a competition to design the library in 2008, seeing off big names including Foster + Partners, OMA, Wilkinson Eyre, Schmidt Hammer Lassen, Hopkins and Foreign Office Architects.

Project data

Design 2008-2009
Execution 2010- 2013
Client Birmingham City Council
Structural and mechanical engineer Buro Happold,
Design Mecanoo
Interior Mecanoo
Theatre consultant Theateradvies
Design manager Davis Langdon and Schumann Smith
Contractor Carillion Building
Planning consultant GVA Grimley
Project cost £193,000,000



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