Sunday 1 March 2015

Birmingham Library

Birmingham Library
February 2015

I think I must be just about the last person to visit Birmingham's controversial new library.

View from the Secret Garden viewing platform of Birmingham Library

The old Birmingham Library was a truly horrible bit of brutal 1960's architecture, slabs of grim concrete piled in top of each other like an inverted pyramid. Thankfully it didn't survive many decades and a new Francine Houben designed structure was opened in 2013 in centenary square adjoining the Rep Theatre - a strong addition to the contemporary gems which already surround Centenary Square.

Whilst its a bit boxy from the outside its the interior which offers the wow factor. The central atrium is built in a circle with galleries offering access to the rare reference books, rising up over several stories. We ascended the escalators and travelator which criss cross the atrium and to my delight we found ourselves in the map room. This room contains hundreds of maps of Birmingham and of course, I was soon throwing sheets over the desk and assembling a mosaic of the central section of the BCN. Sadly I had nowhere enough time to satisfy my curiosity but as Arnie said, "I'll be back"!

The reconstructed Shakespeare Memorial Room

With the serious bit of the library explored, we ventured up to the very top where an indoor viewing platform offered a great view of central Birmingham and then a real gem - the Shakespeare Memorial Room. Set inside a 21st century testament to modernity is a little 19th century shrine dedicated to Shakespeare. The old Shakespeare Room has been reassembled panel by panel and offering a tangible link between the past and the present.

Finally there is the secret garden - an outdoor viewing platform which offers views to the north and west, including the NIA and the Old Main Line from Cambrian Wharf to Old Turn Junction. The new library has an odd link to Brindley's original Birmingham Canal. The original terminus was into a wharf which extended beyond Cambrian Wharf and a basin which sits beneath the foundations of the new library building.

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