Midlands & East Anglia

Mecanoo’s Momentous Library

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The new Library of Birmingham - Mecanoo

 Designs for the new library of Birmingham were first unveiled in April 2009 when Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council announced that Dutch architects Mecanoo would design a structure that would create 250 new construction jobs and 25 apprenticeships.

The plan was to replace Birmingham Central Library with an exciting new structure that would house one of the largest public libraries in Europe. Once complete the new building will transforming the public’s perception of the city, become a hub of enlightenment attracting visitors from across the city and will set the standard for modern libraries everywhere.

Since Birmingham Central Library was founded in 1974 it has been home to extremely valuable archives, photography and rare printed books that have unfortunately deteriorated over time due to the less than ideal environment in which they are currently reside. Therefore, the new library will present safer conditions for the irreplaceable collection whilst providing easier access for visitors with purpose-built galleries and search rooms.

The new Library of Birmingham - Mecanoo

The library will take the place of a former car park that was closed in July 2009 and will occupy the space between Baskerville House and The Reparatory Theatre on Centenary Square. Birmingham City Council has long planned to use the library as an exciting addition to the urban landscape and it will hopefully regenerate the city as well as become a landmark development in its own right.

The innovative £93m project was first announced in October 2007 and construction began in January 2010. The scheme has been funded primarily by Birmingham City Council with other contributions coming from land sale, commercial sponsorship and private philanthropy.

The new library will cover 31,000 square meters and comprise of ten floors. The library will boast a mezzanine at lower ground level that will link with the Birmingham Reparatory Theatre and will include a foyer, bars, restaurants and a new 300 seat studio theatre. The building will have a further four public levels with two cafes located on the first and third floors as well as a new exhibition space. The exhibition area will allow public access to the collections for the first time and will also include conference facilities.

The new Library of Birmingham - Mecanoo

In addition, a ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage will occupy two levels ornamented from gold coloured anodised aluminium panels and the metallic finish will change hue depending on the weather conditions.

The public will be greeted by the large circular form of the entrance canopy and interior overlapping rotundas that reflect the city’s tradition of craftsmanship and industry. Visitors will travel through the building via escalators that will provide a continually changing perspective of a building whilst a viewing gallery will offer a superb view of the city. The project will also feature a large outdoor amphitheatre which can facilitate music, drama, poetry reading and storytelling performances.

The concrete structure will be covered by a unique frieze and each section will be comprised of 5.4m diameter black rings and 1.8m diameter silver rings, which according to architects Mecanoo is ‘inspired by the gasometers, tunnels, canals and viaducts which fuelled Birmingham’s industrial growth’.

Francine Houben, Mecanoo, said:

“The circular pattern of the metal framework honours the city’s industrial heritage, in particular the craftsmanship in metal work. For me, the circles symbolise unity and relate well to the purpose of the metal frieze, unifying the different functions within the building with one gesture and expressing openness to the public.”

One of the more appealing aspects of the new library is the use of two large outside terraces which will enable visitors to not only connect with the library but also the surrounding area promoting the building within the community.

Brian Gambles, Project Director, explained:

“One of the key messages that I gave to the design team was that I wanted the library to work very closely and effectively with the public realm. This is an extremely important public sector project and one of the largest cultural developments in this country, if not Europe.

The new Library of Birmingham - Mecanoo

“The project has not been without its challenges. We are working on a very restricted site in terms of size and accessibility and as a result the construction team has had to be imaginative in their efforts. Fortunately the Repertory Theatre and the library have some services in common and we have been able to integrate the two buildings. In addition, the underground space has been used effectively and natural light can now flow into this space as a result of the creative use of heights.

“Because we are in a very busy location in the city centre, Carillion has had to manage a large volume of vehicles that have brought materials to the site. Whilst this has resulted in partial road closure, the effects of construction have been minimised by close interaction with the local residents and businesses. It was very important that the construction team behaved as a considerate builder and I am pleased to say that Carillion have performed this role brilliantly.

“It gives me great pride to report that the project is currently both on programme and under budget. This is an extremely important development for the city of Birmingham and will allow us to transform the image of the region through the promotion of culture. Although the area already celebrates a large number of visitors, it is hoped that the new library will bring even more people to this wonderful city.”

The new Library of Birmingham is scheduled for completion in April 2013.

A1 Flue Systems

For almost 40 years, A1 Flue Systems has specialised in the manufacture of bespoke stainless steel flues and chimneys for the commercial sector. Over the years A1 Flue Systems has worked on a number of high-profile projects including the Gherkin, King’s Cross Station, St Pancras and HM Prison Belmarsh.

A1 Flue Systems first became involved with Birmingham Library in January 2011 and is currently installing a flue system for three boilers and one combined heat and power (CHP) unit. The system is being installed on a free standing chimney that will be mounted upon the roof of the library.

The Senior Managers of A1 Flue Systems, said:

“At A1 Flue Systems we are most proud of the fact that we are specialist flue manufacturers and not stockists. All of our work is tailor made and made to order.

“We are market leaders and our portfolio of work covers all aspects of the commercial sector, from water treatment works and prisons, to schools, universities and hospitals.”

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