Countdown to 'The Library of Birmingham' - Mecanoo's ambitions

The day before the plans for the new Library of Birmingham are revealed I conclude the countdown to the announcement, Countdown to 'The Library of Birmingham' - Centenary Square ambitions & Countdown to 'The Library of Birmingham' - setting the scene, with an article from Mecanoo's website which reveal the ambitious aims of Mecanoo as it seeks to give Birmingham a 'fourth masterplan'.

Excerpts from Mecanoo's website and The Daily Financial Paper,, from a column article by Francine Houben, creative director of Mecanoo, from February 23, 2009 are reproduced below.

Connecting a Century of Masterplanning in Birmingham

On February 18, in Birmingham, I have a lunch appointment with the architect of the Repertory Theater. I meet a respectable, enthusiastic man of age and faithful visitor to the REP. I myself am working on the design of the new Library of Birmingham which will be fully integrated with the REP. This complex is to become the social heart of the city on Centenary Square, a large square without identity or atmosphere. I tell the architect of our plans. We want the REP not to be demolished, but to preserve the unique auditorium in the style of a Greek theater. We will renovated the entire rear of the building: theater technics, logistics and workshops. He is glad to hear that his building will not be demolished

In 1964, the building is contracted, but the Wilson government orders all public projects on hold. He must wait three and half years, and in this time, his mind is still designing. But he can no longer make changes, no matter how many reasons there are. Originally, the plan was to have a reflective pond in the front, so he designed arched windows. The water would reflect a beautiful scene. This pond never came. And the stairs as exterior sculptural elements connecting the underground parking garage also never came. That bizarre steep slope at the rear of the building is a remnant of the idea to make Cambridge Street one storey lower, at the same level as the brutal highways crossing through the centre of Birmingham.

I feel a great responsibility to bring every period of the last century together, finally, in a sustainable way for the coming century.,

In another article from Dutch Newspaper The Daily Financial Newspaper (The Financieele Dagblad), INTERVIEW: 'De stad is nog lang niet vol', The City is far from full, Francine Houben notes that Birmingham shares many aspects with her hometown of Rotterdam, a city with industrial heritage that was damaged by the war and not always carefully remade. She also notes that the city is not arrogant and has a mixture of cultures from the former colonies.

De tweede stad van Engeland heeft een industriële geschiedenis, is in de oorlog platgegooid door de Duitsers en vervolgens niet altijd even doordacht opgebouwd. En het is meer nog dan Londen een mengelmoes van culturen uit de voormalige koloniën. Een stad, om met Houben te spreken, die totaal niet arrogant is.

Houben notes how the library should revitalise the empty central square [centenary square] utilising the library as part of the modern role of libraries as cathedrals of the 21st century, ‘Bibliotheken zijn de kathedralen van de 21e eeuw'. The library will become the centre of the city but will importantly be less about books, instead embracing multi-media, using theatre and building on the educational focus and life-long learning. It will also cater for the rich diversity of the population with newspapers from around the world there together with supporting visitors, many from BME backgrounds who seek medical information from the library rather than a doctors.

Veel Indiërs en mensen uit andere voormalige Britse koloniën gaan niet naar een dokter toe. Ze hebben schroom of afkeer van de westerse medische aanpak. Maar ze komen wel in een bibliotheek op zoek naar medische kennis voor een kwaal. Medewerkers van de bibliotheek proberen die mensen spelenderwijs te helpen om te achterhalen wat ze mankeren, zonder dat ze naar een dokter hoeven.’

The building will help to develop Centenary Square and link it closer to the central role it will play linking the east and west of the city; Mecanoo uses the example of Aarhus where it's building used the connection between the port of the city and the center while also developing innovative engagement with multimedia from the car park under the building -regarding the car park as the entrance to the city many visitors would first find. The car park for Mecanoo would be an experience utilising multimedia as it welcomed new visitors.

With opinions like this the designs for the new Library of Birmingham promise to be an exciting opportunity to provide a civic centre for the city and a building that can be a cathedral of the 21st Century for visitors and citizens alike.


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