New Futures for Birmingham`s Historic Buildings

Government to announce decision on Listing for Birmingham Central Library

Posted November 22nd, 2009 by Birmingham Conservation Trust with 1 Comment
Birmingham Central Library

Birmingham Central Library. Photo: Matthew Black

Tomorrow we are all expecting to find out the fate of Birmingham’s famous  Central  library.  Will it be listed, and so protected from demolition, or not?  Culture minister Margaret Hodge has the final say and  it is reported that she will reject the proposal to list the building.

There has been intense campaigning for the building.    English Heritage wants it listed:

“Birmingham Library does still meet the strict criteria for listing, as we had also advised when we considered this building in 2002.

“This brutalist modern building has defined an era of Birmingham’s history. It was innovative in incorporating other municipal planning needs, such as public spaces and a bus shelter. It was also well designed for its original use, taking into account practical concerns such as the effect of direct sunlight on books.”

John Madin from a BBC Documentary via eversion on Flickr

John Madin from a BBC Documentary via eversion on Flickr

Alan Clawley of the Friends of Birmingham Central Library has written a series of detailed pieces on why the building should be saved at The Stirrer.  He’s not alone in arguing that it is an iconic part of Birmingham’s landscape and history.  It was designed by John Madin, along with a whole series of buildings in Birmingham  and  the architect has defended his design, saying:

“I humbly suggest it is an excellent example of the period. The council’s objective is financial, and they have made misleading statements about its condition and use. It is disgraceful.”

Les Sparks, former director of planning for Birmingham City Council and one of our  Trustees also added to the debate in favour of keeping the old library. He  was quoted on one web site:

“It is a very fine example of the Brutalist aesthetic and a great monumental statement. It is Birmingham’s greatest post-war building.”

Architect Rob Annable, who’s also argued to save the 1960’s Bull Ring,  says “Madin was the starchitect of his day.” Esther Boyd, an architect who blogs for The Birmingham Post, said refurbishing the library would be more cost effective and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But there are those who believe the 1970s building is an eye-sore (including Prince Charles who called it a place to burn books rather than read them), and ought to be replaced by the newer modern design. Birmingham city resident Matthew Bott wrote on prominent Birmingham blog The Stirrer he couldn’t wait for demolition of the old building to begin:

“If a library is to attract people to sit and read, relax and use the facilities, it should be flooded with natural light so that people actually enjoy being there.

“Not only does it throttle pedestrian routes, but as a complex it straddles an enormously-important-but-outdated road junction that desperately needs to be realigned and reduced.

Bott also highlights the improvements on use of space around Paradise Circus if the building was removed:

“The Town Hall could be given a stunning new setting; traffic could be moved away and a pedestrianised zone created akin to Brindley Place. Better use could be made of this prime space: new offices and leisure amenities, perhaps a premier hotel and well-designed apartments.”

Image of the new Library of Birmingham

Image of the new Library of Birmingham

More comments can be found on the Building Design website here and some more history about the original design on their website here.

Work has already begun on  the site of a new central library, one which The Guardian described as “the clearest sign yet of a national renaissance in the construction of grand civic libraries.”

Writers, including Andrew Motion, Phillip Pullman, Ruth Rendell and Sir Alan Ayckbourn have supported the Mecanoo design of the new building, which is described as “a transparent glass building wrapped in a delicate metal filigree, inspired by the rich and proud history of this former industrial city with a tradition of craftsmanship.”

One Response to “Government to announce decision on Listing for Birmingham Central Library”

  1. Andy March 26, 2011

    Having spent many years growing up in Birmingham I shall be sad to see a building that figured so much in my life be torn down. This is the place where i drew inspiration from, where I used to spend ours studying, where i maintained my love of music, another nail in the coffin that is Birmingham devoid of identity. I may never return there too many memories. Keep the building, use your imagination an art gallery, apartments, top floor restaurants, penthouse suites, a new university BCU relocation site, it’s got to better than Gosta Green! Come on you Brummies get out there and demontrate make a noise do soemthing about it!!!!!!!!!!


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