Last week I was delighted to be invited to a preview of the Library of Birmingham. Now, since the embargo has lifted I have been a little late in coming to writing my bit … but here you go…
It was great to see Ben Waddington and Danny Smith there writing for Paradise Circus. Their pieces can be read respectively here and here. We had to wait ages in a holding room with the same micro excerpt of incidental music on loop for the national press to arrive…notably the Beeb’s weird Arts Editor Will Gompertz; but after a talk from Francine Houben, the architect herself, we were off – exploring the new building.
Looking around, I almost forgot that it was a library. When I saw the books, CDs and DVDs on the shelves I was a little (ridiculously) disappointed that they looked so shabby against the new, shiny building.
I was impressed by the green areas. Volunteers from across Birmingham have been helping to populate these areas, and there is a lot there to educate and inform people. A mini Incredible Edible in Birmingham City Centre. There were apples and blackcurrants, purple sprouting brocoli, thyme, mint, sage, fennel. Beautiful. There were amazing views to across Birmingham to the Lickey’s, Coleshill, and I imagine on a good day, beyond.
The Shakespeare Memorial Room housed in the golden cylinder at the top was the biggest surprise, particularly the fact that it had been hidden away in the Central Library for all these years. A beautiful wooden paneled Victorian room from the old old Library. It was made to house collections of Shakespeare’s works but outgrew its space very quickly. It’s great to have an element of the old libraries in the new one – the raw concrete columns are also a nod to the brutalist Central Library.
The Library opens next Tuesday and I recommend you visit and make your own opinion. Will it be deemed an architectural failure in 40 years time? Is it big enough to house the growing collections? Time will tell.
For a historical perspective, I thought I would end with a time lapse of the old old library being replaced by the Central Library in the 1960s (Thank you Flatpack for uploading it).