A new library for an old city
September 2, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

The new central library of Birmingham (England), the largest public building of its type in Europe, is officially opened tomorrow by Malala Yousafzai. Reviews, pre-opening, have been largely positive [Independent] [Telegraph] [Guardian] [Residents] [Financial Times].

The £189 million (c. $290 million) library replaces the nearby "brutalist" building, which housed the library for 39 years. As the new library was agreed before the 2008 economic crash, some speculate that it is unlikely England will see a similar project of this scope.

Outside of the big city central libraries, smaller branches aren't doing so well.

The new central library is on Twitter (real account). Pictures of its development.
posted by Wordshore (19 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Boy, you know you're listening to too much Welcome to Night Vale when you read FPPs like this waiting for the pause and the dark voice advising you to stay away from the library, stop thinking about the library, don't even look in the direction of the library..
posted by fight or flight at 9:33 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

The new library looks so open and roomy, I hope that sometime I will have the pleasure of using it. The old library, regardless of what you think about the outside, was cramped and confusing inside.

Manchester Central Library is also being renovated at the moment, meaning that England's two greatest towns will have some outstanding library facilities.
posted by Thing at 9:34 AM on September 2, 2013

Flippant jokes aside, the state of local libraries in this country is pretty fucking shocking at the moment. This new building is gorgeous and I hope it gets lots of use, but (as the second Guardian link points out) it's not much more than a very gaudy bandage on an open wound.

I work for an organisation which is closely involved with the library sector and we're pretty much down to scraping about under old sofas for penny change just to keep things running. If this carries on, I wouldn't be surprised if Birmingham ends up with Europe's largest former library (now hyper-inflated housing for the middle class gentry) in 10 years time.
posted by fight or flight at 9:54 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's great to see Birmingham getting some good press and architecture after years of being known for the Bullring centre. I wish the library many years of use and good health.
posted by arcticseal at 10:45 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

I work for an organisation which is closely involved with the library sector and we're pretty much down to scraping about under old sofas for penny change

"But why do you need a library if you got the internet"...
posted by MartinWisse at 11:04 AM on September 2, 2013

The joke when I lived in Birmingham was that the rings made it look like a stack of mattress springs and people said they must have drawn some inspiration from the impromtu tips along the canals for inspiration. Sadly, the new central library will likely lead to the closure of the library branches closer to where people actually live which when you combine it with the staggering increases in bus fares this past decade amounts to a serious erosion in access. Also the past actions of the city council lead me to predict that the open spaces will be filled with shops selling paninis and junk food in just a couple of years.
posted by srboisvert at 11:18 AM on September 2, 2013

They call the old library The Ziggurat. It's a three stepped ziggurat, upside down. The new library is a three stepped ziggurat, right side up.

Was that the point, they hated the old building so much they had to do the exact opposite? Instead of a stern concrete ziggurat, they built a new one dressed in frilly crinoline? In 40 years, they'll hate this architecture even more than Brutalism.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:33 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile, in Bristol, apparently the Central Library (in the year of its 400th anniversary) finds it no longer requires its storage space; a proposal is in hand that will see its lower floors used as expansion space for the adjacent Bristol Cathedral Choir School. Local newspaper coverage here.
posted by aesop at 11:43 AM on September 2, 2013

Wow. That is amazing. I did not know Brummies could read.

When they say the largest of its type, I guess they must be excluding national libraries. For comparison, the British library has about 3x the square footage, IIRC.

Also, £189m is a bit of a snip. The British Library cost £511m in 1998 (around £750m in today's money): they laid the first foundation stone in 1982 and it was formally opened in 1998, ten years late.

I love the idea of bookshelves as far as the eye can see. That first image on the BBC video is what my Howard Hughes-ish home looks like.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:47 AM on September 2, 2013

Don't let the stupid accent fool you that we are illiterate.
posted by arcticseal at 11:53 AM on September 2, 2013

Also - for those that aren't familiar with Birmingham. It has a population of Pakistani origin residents of about 150k - more than 10% of its population, so the choice of Malala Yousafzai, who has been treated fir her injuries in Birmingham and adopted by the city, is additionally meaningful.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:59 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

For comparison, the British library has yadda yadda yadda

London doesn't count as who wants to risk going to London because London. You can leave the library of Birmingham, jump on a bus and be in the Balti Triangle within 20 minutes - or walk to Chinatown in 5 - and have a stuff yourself full meal and get change from a tenner. Heck, you can't even drive from the library in London without risking your car being melted by some death ray. No; not an option.
posted by Wordshore at 12:20 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, £189m is a bit of a snip

Don't forget they aren't paying cash. It is financed so the real cost will be much higher.
posted by srboisvert at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2013

Aw man. I loved that old library. It was straight out of Logan's Run, and walking through it always made me feel like I should start running.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:14 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nice! I wonder how mad Birmingham would get if we swapped this for Seattle's Central Monstrosity.

(Laid-out so circuitously that finding, then getting to a book can be a safari. Current magazine? 5 floors up. )
posted by Twang at 3:17 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Very nice. I like how the rings on the outside recall and play on the circle motifs in the 19th cent. room.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:19 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

There seems to be an awful lot of wasted space in that building. I'm used to libraries being filled with shelves of books and computer terminals and stuff like that. Maybe they ran out of money?
posted by rocket88 at 6:40 PM on September 2, 2013

Looks like it looks kinda nice on the inside. Not fond of that facade though.
posted by Anything at 2:00 AM on September 3, 2013

I love the interior; it's inviting and whimsical and draws the eye from one area to another to browse. There's enough color variation to keep it from being dull, but not enough to make it look manic. The curved benches and planters outside make cozy nooks for conversation or study. And intellectually, I love the concept of the interlocking rings.

But the execution on the facade gives me an oppressive feeling of layers of rough chain link fence and barbed wire, of "DANGER: KEEP OUT!"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:16 PM on September 3, 2013

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