40 not out ... yet - Birmingham Central Library

Today, 12 January 2014, marks the 40th anniversary of the official opening of John Madin's Birmingham Central Library by Harold Wilson, at that time as leader of the opposition, as the largest public library in Europe.  Construction started in 1969 with the main shell completed in 1971 and fitting out taking until 1973.

Madin was a modernist and it seems his ambitions and buildings came to be seen by some as too modern and unloved and the Central Library faces the same sad demise of some of his other Birmingham buildings such as Pebble Mill Studios and the Post and Mail building.

Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft said: ‘John Madin changed the face of Birmingham. Future generations will regret the loss of many of his fine buildings. It would be great to see a reversal of the decision to demolish Birmingham Central Library as a tribute to this great man.’http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/daily-news/obituary-john-madin-1924-2012/8624761.article

Birmingham Central Library is a dreamlike building: Madin's fantasy made real. Sometimes it's hard to know where dreams end and reality begins. Paradise Circus boasts a warren of hidden squares, haunted passageways, dead ends.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-man-who-built-brum-a-lament-for-the-demise-of-john-madins-brutalist-birmingham-8627547.html

The library was to be the centrepiece of an ambitious civic centre including exhibition space, lecture halls, drama centre and athletics and a bus station, http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/gallery-goodbye-birmingham-central-library-4731792.  The original proposals to clad the building in either Portland Stone or Travertine marble were passed over due to funding issues, in favour of pre-cast concrete panels, http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/gallery-goodbye-birmingham-central-library-4731792

The new library represented a new dawn in public libraries in the UK and it followed Bradford who led with books being shelved alongside reading rooms.

Whereas in most large libraries less popular books were stored in densely shelved stacks away from the public areas, at Bradford they were placed alongside the reading rooms (Fig 5), a system later repeated at Birmingham (1964-73 by John Madin and Partners) which succeeded it as the largest
post-war municipal library in Europe (Fig 8).

The following page reproduced from John Madin - Architect & Planner "An illustrated Record" ebook, 
http://www.john-madin.info/downloads/John_Madin_Architect_Planner_ebook.pdf, shows the floor plans of the central library.

The following pictures, taken from my flickr collection, www.flickr.com/feltip, show how fascinating Madin's building still is and it's historic part of a city that never stops.


Tom said…
Great pictures, the new library is very impressive.

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