Engineering the Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham copyright Christian Richters


Following five years of planning, design and construction the new Library of Birmingham is due to open to the public. Appointed in 2008 BuroHappold has been a key member of the design team, that created this state of the art new facility fit for the 21st century, the largest of its kind in Europe.

Working with architects Mecanoo, BuroHappold has designed and delivered ten key aspects of the new building: structural engineering, façade solutions, energy and environment engineering, building services engineering, environmental simulations, lighting systems, fire engineering, inclusive design, acoustics and sustainability and BREEAM

Structural strength
The massing and form of the building is articulated with dramatic cantilevers that protect the building entrance and defy the weight of the book collection. The transfer structure needed for the offsets of the central atrium is concealed within the archive that sits in the upper levels of the building. The need for both strength and lightness has been achieved through a post-tensioned concrete structure that sits on the piled retaining wall of the basement. Elsewhere, a filigree new steel structure has been laced into the REP building to expand and improve its facilities.

Judging a building by its cover – intelligent façade

The facade engineering design evolved through close collaboration with the architect and the other design engineering disciplines, from the initial concepts, through the building envelope procurement period and during the construction installation.

An integrated, intelligent sub-system is integrated at levels 1, 2 and 3 within the facade. The intelligent system incorporates dampers and acoustic attenuators in the spandrels to allow a mixed mode ventilation strategy, in coordination with the ventilation strategy. These attenuators are also acoustically treated to adhere to the tight acoustic requirements of the envelope.

Setting energy standards

The library has been designed to be an exemplar low energy and sustainable building, minimising the impact on the external environment and to run with 50% less energy demand than the old Central Library.

The environmental and indoor climate strategy heavily influenced the building massing and form, in particular the size and shape of the atrium space, and responded to the design brief set by the client to achieve an exemplar and innovative design with a BREEAM Excellent rating.

A new tri-generation energy centre will provide energy for the building; free cooling is provided from a ground water cooling system that pumps water from the aquifer below nearby Centenary Square to provide cooling to the areas utilising chilled beams. Supplementary heating is provided from high efficiency gas boilers and cooling from high efficiency boilers and chiller units.

Future proof building services

In order to ensure that the new Library of Birmingham has the best capacity to adapt and change with its users’ needs and can provide excellent thermal comfort throughout the year while minimalising energy consumption the building services engineering was directed by the following elements:

  • Flexibility – varied use with a range of different opening hours required flexible services solutions, clear zoning and intelligent control systems
  • Adaptability – enabling the changing needs and aspirations of the public the building services are adaptable and allow modification to meet the building’s future needs
  • Sustainability – achieving BREEAM Excellent rating
  • Functionality – the enhancement of the building’s user experience and the protection of  precious archived materials has been achieved while minimising operating complexity through robust services strategies and intelligent controls systems

Environmental simulations
Simulation was deployed extensively to optimise maximum passive performance and minimise energy demand. Along with a high performing envelope, one of the key low energy design concepts was the incorporation of a mixed-mode ventilation strategy.

Advanced building simulation techniques were used extensively throughout the library’s concept and schematic design stages to predict building performance, allowing informed decisions to be made at these critical early stages of the project and giving overall confidence in the design.

Light reading…
The Library of Birmingham’s lighting supports the distinctive architectural language of the building while providing the functional lighting requirements for each floor.

Lighting is largely delivered from high level down-lights to meet the CIBSE light level recommendations for the wide variety of spaces across the floors. To meet the exacting energy targets for the building the down-lights are warm colour temperature metal halide fittings with integral electronic control gear; the most energy efficient systems currently available.

Protecting valuable assets

Given the library’s vast collection of rare books and other materials, a great deal of consideration was given to fire protection, and a detailed fire engineering strategy approach was developed as part of the integrated design process. The fire engineering strategy was developed to demonstrate compliance with Part B of the Building Regulations and provided substantiation on BuroHappold’s  approach and compliance, covering the following key aspects of the design: structural fire precautions: escape provisions: fire fighting facilities and fire protection systems.

Inclusive for all

As for sustainability, a high bar was set with regards to the Library’s approach to access and inclusion from the outset. BuroHappold developed an inclusive design strategy and parameters that reflected both national and local policy, providing a foundation for the client and design team to build upon. Successful community projects also require consultation and involvement of stakeholders; BuroHappold worked closely with the Library's stakeholders, including the Access Committee for Birmingham, to ensure that the facilities would be accessible for all to use.

Sound and vision

The acoustics design formed a key design discipline within the Library of Birmingham and our specialists formed an integral part of the design team from the initial planning through to the final commissioning of the building. Some of the key acoustic issues that were considered and worked into the design plans were control of noise emission from building services plants, internal and external: multipurpose acoustics design of the Studio Theatre: provisions for both façade and internal sound insulation.

A sustainable resource for all

Birmingham City Council has strong sustainability goals for both this development and the wider city of Birmingham. One of the key sustainability aims for the new library development has been to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating for the new build element of the library. At the design stage, the project achieved the target rating and is currently on track to achieving this at post construction stage for the final certification.  The building has, where possible, utilised natural daylighting and ventilation to provide a healthy and comfortable environment throughout the building.

The final word

“Throughout the design and construction period, the design team has maintained excellent co-operation with the client team, working together with us to deliver our vision for the Library of Birmingham. BuroHappold has provided an excellent service as an integral part of the team..”

Brian Gambles, Project Director, Library of Birmingham

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