Library of Birmingham, UK, nears completion

The Rep Lo B

30/04/2013 Written by: Gill Sincock

The base build construction for the new £188 million Library of Birmingham is now reaching completion, following the final commissioning of the energy and life safety systems.

With the inspiring aspiration to be the best library in the world and the busiest in Europe, the new Library of Birmingham has been designed to create a focus for the city centre and provides a dramatic setting for learning and knowledge as well as entertainment. While books will remain the library’s prime learning medium they will also be augmented with the latest information technology to facilitate access to the city’s huge book collection. The REP Theatre which sits adjacent to the library will also be refurbished as part of the project with the addition of a new shared 300 seat auditorium.

In May the extensive fit out of the library commences which will involve huge deliveries of books, and IT systems hardware and infrastructure being carried out over a three month period before the building’s  formal opening to the public in September 2013.

BuroHappold has been integrally involved in the testing and commissioning of the energy and building services systems. Project principal Rod Manson commented that collaborative working between the design team and contractors had been the key to meet the challenging base build completion dates in order to enable the fit out installations to commence. 

Sustainable Design

The new library has been designed to be an exemplar low energy and sustainable building, minimising the impact on the external environment and with 60% less energy demand than the city’s original Central Library. The environmental and indoor climate strategy heavily influenced the building massing and form, in particular the size, shape and form of the atrium space, and responded to the design brief set by the client, Birmingham City Council, to achieve an exemplar and innovative design. The council has strong sustainability goals for this development and the wider city of Birmingham. One of the key sustainability aims for the new Library of Birmingham development has been to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating for the new build element of the library. 

Key energy facts include:

  •  40% better than the Building Regulations Part L (2006)
  •  35% contribution from renewable energy sources
  • Energy Performance Certificate rating of B

Fire Engineering

With a building stacked full of paper, much of it rare and highly valuable, fire protection systems were a major consideration for the design team. Concrete was an obvious choice for the structure as it is inherently fire resistant, eliminating the need for additional fire protection within the framing. While archive storage standards typically require a fire-resistance rating of four hours, the team developed a solution that reduced the fire protection to two hours. In order to maintain the desired openness of the building the solution involves a series of discrete containment and safety measures, including concealed smoke curtains and a smoke exhaust system. A low oxygen system, rather than sprinklers, will protect the archives from fire, while a climate control system will protect it from humidity.

BuroHappold and Dutch architects Mecanoo were appointed to the project in 2008 following an international design competition run by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

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