Library of Birmingham
Cambridge Street, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Library of Birmingham Reviews
Library of Birmingham Dec 07, 2013
The new City Library in Birmingham is an unusual building for the UK outside London, in as much as the architect has been allowed to build something cool rather than just slavishly going for neo-classical fake Victorian. It is tucked between the Victorian splendour (I mean that) of the town hall/Victoria square area and the uninspired, concrete blocks of the Symphony Hall and conference complex, and it is just a bit fabulous. I have absolutely no idea what the building is meant to look like; it’s sort of like if you imagine a Mayan pyramid made of paper chains. Or something. But you definitely can’t miss it.
It is designed to be a working, central library for England’s second city, and at the same time, an accessible public space with incredible views over the city. I was there to gawp rather than to study. The building has a huge central atrium lined with book shelves for us tourists to come up through, and presumably the study areas and archives are quieter than the central atrium. The main reason to come and wander around the building if you aren’t studying or looking for a book is to go onto the balconies – enormous ones at regular intervals throughout the building, with views over Birmingham to the Midlands and, I’m told, as far as Wales on a clear day. There is even a “Secret Garden” on the seventh floor (how secret a garden can be when there are large signs pointing the way to it is a moot point, but there we go), with cute statues and little potted palm trees. I would imagine it’s a really nice place to go on a hot week day, although possibly a bit crowded if the weather is very nice on a weekend.
Right at the very top there is a slightly surreal oak panelled historic library room. I couldn’t find a sign to tell me much about it – probably more my fault not looking than the library – but it is very beautiful, if a bit weird in such an ultra-modern building. That level also has an indoor viewing room, with good views, but it’s not as much fun as the balcony. In general, the architecture is unusually cool for Britain, a nation not much given to innovation in its public building design for the last half century or so.
Access is free, with the usual request for a donation. There is disabled/buggy access right to the top, but if you can manage stairs it’s better than waiting for the queue at the lift. You are in a library, and the security guys will shush you if you are making too much noise, but there’s no need to wander around in silence. There’s a café.
Part of the 2013 - Home Sweet Home travel blog
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