Library of Birmingham

Birmingham, UK

In 2013, Britain’s biggest public library was opened in Birmingham. The new complex replaces the old Central Library that was situated in the heart of the city, adjacent to the historic Centenary Square, and provides the local community with a state of the art centre for knowledge, learning and culture.

Challenge

The original Central Library was the busiest library in Britain and Birmingham’s most visited public building. The fabric of the early 1970s building required major renovation and the layout was no longer suitable for modern day use.

In addition, the old library housed archives, photography and rare printed collections of national and international significance in storage facilities that lacked proper climate control. This was something that the new complex had to rectify, as well as meeting Birmingham City Council’s aim to set new standards for libraries in the 21st century.

Library of Birmingham interior
The fabric of the early 1970s building required major renovation to meet modern demands. Image: Ben Kirkpatrick

Solution

Our engineers developed their designs for this project through a series of site visits, technology days with industry leaders, and workshops with library staff and the wider design team. Concepts were evolved through the creation of ‘personas’, which represented potential users whose experience of the building was studied and described. This work helped shape our designs by giving us an understanding of the needs of different groups, resulting in a new public library that boasts exemplary functionality and performance.

Buro Happold provided a professional service throughout, overcoming various challenges in this very complex building, contributing to the design teams’ overall success. They embraced the project and invested in its success. Buro Happold offered good value for money, going beyond their scope when required to ensure the success of the project.

Sue Round, Senior Manager, Building Operations, Library of Birmingham
Library of Birmingham facade
The circular design for the cladding is inspired by the landmarks of the cities industrial past. Image: Ben Kirkpatrick
Library of Birmingham
An intricate frieze composed of aluminium circles wraps around the building. Image: Ben Kirkpatrick

Value

It was this characteristically forward-thinking, experimental approach to design that enabled us to deliver a facility that supports the Council’s mission to create a global community with a local heart, right in the centre of Birmingham. The new library is integrated with the REP Theatre, creating new shared facilities such as a 300 seat auditorium and café.

Brightly lit Library of Birmingham against a dramatic, darkening sky
Delivering an outstanding educational and cultural resource that sets a new standard for libraries in the 21st century. Image: Ben Kirkpatrick
Library of Birmingham
We created a dynamic, fluid space that can adapt to perform a variety of functions. Image: Ben Kirkpatrick
Awards
2015

Selwyn Goldsmith award, Winner, Universal design, Civic Trust

2017

Special Award Stanislao Nievo, Winner, Dedalo Minosse

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