Mecanoo Architecten: Library of Birmingham
  1. Home
  2. Architecture
  3. Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham

Mecanoo Architecten

Mecanoo Architecten: Library of Birmingham
By -


Mecanoo’s vision for the Library of Birmingham was to create a ‘People’s Palace’: a space inviting and inspiring for all ages, cultures and backgrounds - a real community building that also creates an outdoor public space. Fundamental to Mecanoo’s design concept for the Library of Birmingham is the belief that libraries are the new “cathedrals” of the city. They bring diverse citizen groups together and enhance the economic and cultural vitality of the communities they serve. They not only link past, present and future, but are also cultural icons for their communities, and stand as a testament to a community’s commitment to their future. Key features in the Library of Birmingham’s design and design methodology – including intense community and stakeholder involvement - have facilitated the development of a civic building that now stands proudly over Centenary Square. It is the city’s new cultural heart – a people’s palace – blending its character into its program and design, connecting people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds.



Centenary Square, the largest public square in the city, formerly lacked cohesion nor a clear identity. Mecanoo’s design cohesively binds the square together in an expression of three distinct realms: the monumental, the cultural and entertainment. Three palazzos celebrate an urban narrative of important periods in the history of the city: The Repertory Theatre (REP) (1970), the Library of Birmingham (2013) and Baskerville House, a listed building (1936). Designed to be an extension of the street, the ground floors of the library offer a compelling public experience, blurring building edge and pedestrian path. Its cantilever is not only a large canopy that provides shelter at the common entrance of the library and the REP, but also forms a grand city balcony with garden retreats offering views of the square below and the city beyond. The library’s key public void – a circular patio recessed in the square – provides a protected outdoor exhibition space and invites daylight deep into the building. It also affords a glimpse of the library’s inner world, drawing people in: on a summer day, a pianist plays for a captivated audience inspiring some to enter the library and embark on a journey of discovery. Moving from one floor to the next through interconnected rotundas that serve as the main vertical circulation route, visitors see ever changing vistas unfold through its delicate filigree skin of interlocking circles. This filigree screen creates a strong sense of place. Externally, it is the signature of this landmark. The large circles symbolize the craftsmanship of the steel industry while smaller ones refer to the 200-year tradition of craftsmanship of the gold and silver smiths of the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. From within, the facade’s repeating circles generate shadows and reflections, creating an unforgettable world inside the building.



As a people’s palace, the new library is a centre of learning, information and culture that helps to foster Birmingham’s knowledge economy. Developed in an intensive collaboration with the Birmingham City Council Project Team, with an educationally-focused brief as a place of learning and community rather than a traditional library model, it includes several auditoria and multimedia learning spaces. An innovative partnership with Birmingham’s Newman University College provides opportunities for collaborative learning, joint programming, and the sharing of resources. This wide range of partnerships positions the Library of Birmingham as a key promoter of the ‘knowledge city’. The library has welcomed over 2.7 million visitors in the first twelve months alone. Through integrated design strategies, the Library of Birmingham has achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating. It incorporates grey water systems and ground source heat pumps and maintains long-term energy efficiency through the buffering capacity of the building mass and the atria. Sun shading and reflective materials within the facades block the harsh rays of the sun during the height of the afternoon while allowing gentle daylight into the interiors. The addition of soft landscaped roof spaces further enhances the immediate surroundings. At the Library of Birmingham, architecture, urban design and engineering work in concert: elevators and escalators placed dramatically in the rotundas of the library draw connections between the eight circular spaces within the building. With its rotundas and its facade, the building is an ode to the circle: an archetypical form that embodies universality, infinity, unity and timelessness. This central idea of connection creates a library experience that is socially vibrant and comfortable, as well as inspiring.



The programme of 35,000m2 includes an adult and children’s library, study spaces, music library, business and learning centre, multimedia facilities, archives, the relocated 1886 Shakespeare Memorial Room, roof gardens and terraces, offices, a climate controlled gallery, cafes and lounge area, new auditorium shared with integrated and refurbished REP Theatre, and a ‘back of house’ with offices, workshops and rehearsal studios. The commission for the Design and Build contract included both landscape and interior design.

Mecanoo, founded in Delft in 1984, focusses on process, consultation, context, urban scale and integrated sustainable design strategies to create culturally significant buildings with a human touch. Over thirty years, Mecanoo has become an internationally renowned architecture practice that continues to thrive, developing a strong reputation for libraries, as well as cultural spaces, performance venues, and educational spaces. Francine Houben is the creative director of a team that has grown to include over one hundred and thirty people with Aart Fransen as technical director, Peter Haasbroek as executive director and partners Dick van Gameren, Paul Ketelaars, Francesco Veenstra, and Ellen van der Wal. Houben sees the office as a symphony orchestra, bringing together urbanism, landscape, architecture, restoration and interior design in a coherent way, with a unique sensitivity for light and beauty. The Architects’ Journal named Francine Houben as the 2014 Woman Architect of the Year.

Keep up with the latest trends in the architecture and design world

© Maggioli SpA • THE PLAN • Via del Pratello 8 • 40122 Bologna, Italy • T +39 051 227634 • P. IVA 02066400405 • ISSN 2499-6602 • E-ISSN 2385-2054