Why can’t people just leave things alone?

I’ll say it loud, and I’ll say it clear: I like Birmingham Central Library. It’s a real landmark. Being built from concrete, it’s a bit dirty here and there but it has a real sense of character, plus it’s pretty cool inside.

I got lost in there the first time I went in. 🙂

The current location of Birmingham Central Library, snapped on the 2nd of May, 2007.

Artist’s impression of new Library of Birmingham site
Credit: BCC

However, it’s looking more and more like the existing BCL is going to be knocked down to make way for a new development, with an estimated cost of about £193 million (this isn’t such a long time after they picked up the remainder of the tab for the expensive Town Hall renovation, something like £18 million on top of the EU and Lottery funding). The Guardian picked up on this story a long time ago, and published an article to that extent (and while it’s dated, it’s still relevant, so it’s worth a read). A little has changed though from the original article. This is how the Guardian report reads:

Still dominating Chamberlain Square and squaring up to some of the city’s best Victorian and Edwardian buildings, the library is to be replaced by gleaming office towers. The Richard Rogers partnership, meanwhile, has been commissioned to design a new £130m library at Millennium Point, Eastside, Digbeth. The Rogers building – a stately ultra-modern galleon – will be the flagship of Birmingham’s new cultural quarter, set across a ring-road and web of railway lines from Chamberlain Square.

This has changed slightly – insofar as the new plans talk about the location being a shared site along with the Birmingham Rep, “with the library and theatre joining together and sharing a number of facilities to create a unique centre for knowledge, learning and culture.” Hmm. “Subject to Cabinet’s approval of the proposals (on 22 October), the next step will see a project manager and design team appointed to take the project forward and conduct an international search for an architect so that design work can get underway by summer 2008, and the new centre completed by 2013.”

More info’s available on the BCC web site’s “Library Of Birmingham” pages, and this is where you’d see it should it be built:

The council’s plans include converting the space between the Rep and Baskerville House, currently used as a car park (which is kinda useful!) into a massive Library. However, what’s wrong with Birmingham Central Library being in Chamberlain Square? It’s a great venue, the vista as you stand with the Birmingham Gallery to your back is really something (with the “inverted ziggurat” of the library towering over you and curving around the long ampitheatre-like steps down to the fountain).

I can see the need to put one’s best foot forward, and as Britain’s Second City, I fully agree with that. However, a cost of £193m for a new building on property already serving a useful purpose – parking is already hard enough in the city without another car park being bulldozed… Is it really necessary?

The Council rationalise their thinking by informing us that:

Birmingham’s existing Central Library is the busiest public library in Britain and the city’s most visited public building. However there are major problems with the building, which was built in the early 1970s. The fabric is in very poor condition and the design unsuitable for modern-day needs. The storage capacity and environment, and level of public access for archives, photography and rare printed collections are unacceptably poor given their national and international significance. The Library of Birmingham will provide an exceptional solution to this.

So just closing the Library, gutting it and renovating it then reopening it isn’t enough? Oh wait, I forgot, you want to convert the prime real estate in Chamberlain Square into office blocks, I forgot about that.

If you want to support those who would keep things the way they are, there’s a Facebook group where all the cool people hang out. According to Love Concreation, “Friends of Central Library are proposing to have a meeting on Tuesday 20th November at 6pm – location TBC, somewhere in Bham town centre.” So, keep your eyes peeled if you’d like to take part.

Published by Christopher

The guy behind About Brum - living and working in Birmingham and the Black Country. I love this city!

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