Six days till Brum's People's Palace opens

In six days and a few hours time the new Library of Birmingham will open it's doors to become Birmingham's 'people's palace', the vision of architect Francine Houben.

For some lucky residents, myself included, there was an opportunity to 'soft test' the new library ahead of it's opening and see if it works.  While a picture might tell a thousand words, and i'm sure you'd like to see a sneak peek, it's perhaps a thousand words that would best sum up the scale and the depth behind it's catchphrase 'rewriting the book'.  The library exterior while bold and offering another marmite, love it or hate it, building on the city's skyline is only the shell from which you get teasing glimpses of the interior and which invites you in to the learning and social heart of the city.

Rewriting the book, the new library will change the way people view and use libraries and it should provide a physical part in the partnership between city and resident, the city as a whole from each resident bring their part to the community in which they live.  The Ephebic oath was sworn by the young men of Athens 2,400 years ago and it almost seems to be imbued in the building and the character it aspires for people to help shape Birmingham to be better for all it's residents.

"I shall leave this city not less but more beautiful than I found it."

The Bullring, which opened ten years ago in September 2003, created a beating retail heart to the city and it now has a companion, in a Dr Who 50th anniversary Whovian twist by creating a second beating heart, this time for the learning and social in the city.  Quite how the finished redeveloped New Street will fit into this analogy remains to be seen but it will provide perhaps the third side to a triangle of key recent projects that help to shape a modern Birmingham that follows the city motto Forward.

The library will offer a chance for the city to celebrate it's great civic role in educating and enlightening residents while also showcasing the creative genius that made Birmingham the Workshop of the World sitting opposite the statue to the Lunar society thinkers Murdoch, Watt and Boulton.  The increased space and improved archival facilities allow the proper conservation of an internationally significant photography collection and archives including those of James Watt.

It's hard to believe it's five years since architects Mecanoo and engineering consultancy Buro Happold were appointed to the project in 2008 and over three years since construction began in January 2010.  The pictures below show how the construction rose to dominate Centenary Square and contrast with pictures now showing the completed library sitting comfortably in the square and helping create the the three palazzo's vision of Houben with the library overhang providing a porous interface of library and public space.


The new library will open on 3 September with celebrations to mark the opening starting at 11.00am and the first visitors being welcomed in from about 11.30am and the library open until 8.00pm.

From the 4 - 15 September the library will be open from 10am - 8pm Monday to Friday and 10am - 5pm Saturday and 11am - 4pm Sunday.  Full opening hours will start from Monday 16 September.

As the new library opens facilities and services will be introduced with appointments for the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research receiving bookings now from Monday 9 September, pre-booking of internet sessions on library computers available from Wednesday 18 September and bookings to use the library's digital recording studio and editing suite from November,


The opening also coincides with the REP's reopening following two and a half year redevelopment.  As part of the refurbishment a new 300 seat auditorium, The Studio, has been created alongside a shared public foyer with the Library of Birmingham and the remodelling of the bars and restaurant together with new state of the art backstage facilities.  Searcys who provide catering for the Champagne Bar at St Pancras International Station and private members' club at the top of the Gherkin will operate the new cafe-bar,   The new 300 seat auditorium joins the existing 900 seat theatre.

February 15 2013 marked the centenary of the founding of the REP by Barry Jackson originally housed in an Edwardian playhouse on Station Street as the first purpose-built repertory theatre in the UK,
Since it's founding it has broken new ground with the first Shakespeare production in modern dress with the 1923 production of Cymbeline as well as launching careers and seeing actors from Laurence Olivier to Timothy Dalton treading it's boards; It's forward approach rewarding it with longevity and success as it moves on to it's next 100 years,

The opening of the library and REP is accompanied by a series of productions with Alan Bennett play People as well as Martin Shaw in Twelve Angry Men and Mark Williams in Tartuffe engaging new audiences and showcasing the versatility of the REP's production spaces.  More information on the REP's programme can be found here: 


The power of the spoken word will be celebrated none more so than by the words of Dr Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech with Rev Jesse Jackson making his only other UK visit aside from London to Birmingham to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the speech,

“My visit to Birmingham during this historic time will be to celebrate but also to prepare for action. That was Dr King’s way.”
Francine Fernandes, deputy director of Operation Black Vote, said: “As the second city, we feel Birmingham is the right place to take Rev Jackson.
“There have been dramatic improvements in black and minority ethnic (BME) political representation over the past 25 years but more still needs to be done. We have 27 BME MPs but there would need to be around 60 to be representative of the BME population.”


In a city that is a rich mosaic of city squares providing places to relax and enjoy the city and watch the world go by it seems fitting that the library opening will send out a call to four squares to help celebrate it's opening.

The 4 Squares Weekender sees city arts organisations join forces to celebrate the library's opening with a series of outdoor arts events in Oozells, in Brindleyplace, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria squares.

The following details are reproduced from the programme,, to show the events taking place.


To coincide with the opening of the new Library there is a Discovery Season running from 3 September until 31 December 2013 with events exploring and allowing us to discover the new library through literature, architecture, design and photography.  The foyer will play host to a pavilion playing host to creative residencies of artist and groups.

The programme can be viewed below, reproduced from


Not pictures of the interior but of Centenary square which has come alive with the people passing through again on a route across the city and of people discovering the new outdoor amphitheatre space and admiring the new library.

The square has come alive again and Houben's vision of three palazzo's can be seen with a grand square, tiled in brick fronting Symphony Hall, the green meadow and open amphitheatre blurring the space between public space and library, inviting exploration of space and the third civic historical square fronting Baskerville House with Hall of Memory and statue of Edward VII.

It's amazing how green the square looks and the green space surrounding the amphitheatre space reflects the green gardens in the sky on the terraces of the new library.


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