New Futures for Birmingham`s Historic Buildings

Friday Photo: Farewell Birmingham Central Library

Posted December 18th, 2015 by Julie Webb with 4 Comments

Optimized-Birmingham Central Library

Today’s Friday photo is of the demolition of Birmingham Central Library.  Opened in 1974 the Library was designed by local architect John Madin in the brutalist style. Since it open it created a marmite effect, some loved it some hated it. The Prince of Wales once referred to Birmingham’s Central Library as looking like “a place where books are incinerated, not kept”.  Whilst a supporters group have recently stated “The former Central Library is one of three Brutalist buildings in the UK identified by the World Monuments Fund in 2012 as the best of their kind”.

Personally, although I do appreciate the uniqueness of the brutalist style,  I am sorry to say that I never much warmed to the building and felt it always looked out of place. The building was originally due to be part of a wider new civic centre, but due to cut backs much was not completed and the quality of materials were reduced. Perhaps this is why it looked so out of context.  The new plans for the area look like it will open up the space once more for local people, instead of being a concrete corridor between two main areas of the city. The new plans look like they will complement the beautiful town hall and council house, which are the real heritage stars of this area.  Although I  think the real tragedy was the demolition of the original 1883 Library designed by John Henry Chamberlain, which was demolished to make way for a new “road” and replaced in function by John Madin’s building.  Birmingham Council in the 1960-70’s made some shocking decisions in the name of progress. However, this opens the question as to whether in 40 years will future generations be writing about the shocking decision to demolish this brutalist building? Only time will tell if history mourns the loss of this building.

4 Responses to “Friday Photo: Farewell Birmingham Central Library”

  1. Jonathan December 21, 2015

    The trouble is, the replacement buildings won’t complement the civic buildings at all. They will just be generic, bland, glass commercial boxes. I look forward to 30 years’ time when the new Library of Birmingham will be falling to bits, then they can demolish the bland buildings and build a new landmark library in its rightful place in the civic area.

    Noreen: good question. I’ve been unable to find an answer to this, either. Presumably it’s been salvaged and put into storage. A pity it couldn’t have been incorporated into the new library.


  2. Mike December 20, 2015

    I worked here from 1978-1986 and its sad to see it destroyed because it was my first workplace!


  3. Noreen Evans December 19, 2015

    Does anyone know what has happened to the spiral staircase that led up to the 7th floor. It originally came from the old library.


  4. Leigh December 18, 2015

    Totally agree that this building is abhorrent! However…….this is how people saw Victorian architecture in the 60’s. If it hadn’t have been for people like John Betjeman, we wouldn’t even have the lovely old Victorian buildings we still see today. Shame he didn’t live in Birmingham………


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