Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TV: The Culture Show - Birmingham Central Library

As we race towards the finishing line at the end of the Library's summer-long refurbishment project, we graciously concede that the removal of books from Birmingham's John Madin Library building to the newly opened Birmingham Central Library was a project on an altogether vaster scale.

This was evidenced by last night's Culture Show which saw an initially sceptical Tom Dyckhoff showing us around the exterior of the building before marvelling at its interior circular atrium which floods the nine storeys with natural light. In two roof gardens overlooking a new performance space, Dyckhoff found plenty of members of the public pleased with the spaces provided by the Library for learning and socialising. Their cheerful mood was echoed by one of the head librarians who spoke of the allure of the many thousands of books on the shelves, and the digital advancements keeping the Library alive to the public.

The new £193m building was opened last week amid a blaze of media interest in front of crowds who had gathered to see women's rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai declare the building open. Dutch practice Mecanno have designed a 'golden box' clad with a skin of aluminium rings which while being criticised for its 'bling', inside, offers visitors various options to study in groups or in silent spaces overlooking Birmingham's concrete cityscape. The aim is that visitors feel part of the wider city's community at all times as they traverse the buildings many layers.

The new 'super-library' replaces the architect John Madin's Brutalist 1970s building which looks certain to be bulldozed next year, despite English Heritage's best efforts. Out and out modernist Madin who died last year, is arguably one of the most important British architects of the twentieth century. He was unfortunate to see many of his designs demolished during his lifetime. Prince Charles once famously described Madin's design as looking more like a place for incinerating books than for burning them. (As noted by Freddie Gick of the Birmingham Civic Society has noted: 'One man's architectural triumph is another man's lump of concrete'). Dyckhoff interviewed a photographer who described the sentiment he attaches to the building which for the time being, still sits majestically in Birmingham city-centre while the public fawn over its new and shiny successor. 

To watch last night's programme over the next seven days, visit the iplayer here.