Thursday, 31 October 2013

The library of Birmingham

The new library of Birmingham, designed by Francine Houben of the Dutch collective Mecanoo and opened on 3 September 2013 - the opening address by Malala Yousafzai.


Aptly described by Stuart Maconie as' an airy, black-and gold-palazzo of mesh and glass', it is a wondrous place. This is not just a big, ten storey building full of books. It also houses an art gallery, a children's area, a multimedia centre, two cafes, a music library, a performance space, a theatre, a restaurant, and terraces with herb gardens.


'This is a people's palace', commented the architect. And this is precisely what it is - it was packed.

The blue lights on the escalators are really atmospheric.

There are 400,000 volumes on display, plus hundreds of thousands more in the archive including a Shakespeare First Folio and John James Audubon's Birds of America, worth £7m each.

The multimedia centre


looking out

The women's contemplation room - the men's had small rugs on the floor. There was a washroom with shower next to each contemplation room


Going down the escalators - the mezzanine floor on the far left is one of the cafes


quite an elaborate ceiling above the escalators.


Comfortable chairs everywhere

The children's area


Leading out to the Discovery Terrace on level 3


The Discovery Terrace

where the herb garden is

one more photograph
The glass lift which rises through the upper part of the library's central rotunda

and which takes you up to the 7th floor

onto the Secret Garden

and panoramic views of the city

The Secret Garden

Back inside and looking out.
The Shakespeare Memorial Room on the 8th floor.

The original feature from the city's Victorian library was designed by John Henry Chamberlain in 1882. Since then it has changed home twice. It originally housed the Birmingham Shakespeare Library, which is still available at the Library of Birmingham. The room is wood panelled with glass printed shelves inspired by the Elizabethan age with carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage. The woodwork is by noted woodcarver Mr Barfield, and the brass and metal work is most likely crafted by Hardmans.
The books and memorabilia are items from the Library's general collections.

View of Centenary Square from the mezzanine floor café. I would not recommend the food here - this was the only negative aspect of our visit.


  1. I saw a Culture Show programme on it too, and it really looks like a great place to go for all sorts of reasons (if not the food!) - but I hope that it is quiet enough for reading and research generally.

    1. It's a real problem this, isn't it? We want people to visit libraries, and when they do, it's such a wonderful thing - I loved seeing all those crowds. But as you say, the other side of the coin is that one needs peace and quiet for reading and research. A difficult one. The place is so vast though, that I think that quiet corners can be found - I hope so anyway.

      I wish I had seen the Culture Show programme, but it was probably on when we were in Greece.