Friday, 4 April 2014

In celebration of a former car park: my thoughts on a recent visit to the new Library of Birmingham.

I arrived early, so by the time we all assembled in the Foyer for the guided tour organised by CILIP SW I had already spent a couple of hours mooching about - sitting in a comfy retro-looking red chair, reading; enjoying lunch in the ground floor cafĂ©; and generally soaking up the atmosphere of this imposing building in the heart of Birmingham. I was there I thought with my Librarian ‘hat’ on, imagining that I would be professionally enthused by the resources on offer…which I was. However, the minute I entered this amazing space books took a back seat to the environment they were contained within. Having originally trained as a designer my creative brain took over and I was captivated by the juxtaposition of shape, colour and texture that make up this amazing public space. It was about the resources as well obviously, the building wouldn’t be there without them, but the Library of Birmingham serves as so much more than a repository for the printed or even digitised word, as befits a 21st Century knowledge space. From the painstakingly relocated Shakespeare Memorial Room within the Skyline Viewpoint on Level 9, to the contemporary Beatbox adjacent to the glass walled Amphitheatre in the basement, this unique building offers its visitors an experience beyond the confines of a traditional Library. As I wandered around it was obvious to me how inclusive the space has been designed to be. Toddlers romped on the vast, cushion covered steps of the Children’s Library; students were engrossed in study on most floors; people relaxed with or without books; tourists took in the huge views of the city from the Discovery Terrace; an elderly gentleman played faltering notes on a piano in the Music Library. But overwhelmingly I had the sense that a lot of the visitors were there purely to soak up the vibrant mood of the place. No stereotypical ssshing by Library Staff was to be heard here!

I took minimal notes for this piece (which is patently obvious!) despite the fact that Keri our Guide was interesting, articulate and knowledgeable. I spent most of my time on the tour at the back of the Group, taking copious photos. So apart from the few facts that I gleaned when I was actually listening, and a glance at the Visitor Guide (available on the website here ), most of my recollections of this visit are visual. The montage below will hopefully give an idea of the space through my eyes, and here is a link to more of the images I took if you are interested apologies for the quality as they were taken on my iPhone. I’d encourage everyone to visit if they can as for me the Library transcended expectations, proving to be one of the most wonderful buildings I’ve spent time in, from both a design and hopefully (for the 200 or so staff who work in it) functional point of view. Time will tell I suppose. But I do understand that it’s probably a bit like Marmite!

Some facts...with fingers crossed that they are accurate!

·         Opened in September 2013, the building stands on the site of a former car park, the rubble from which creates a ‘Brown Roof’, soon to be home to beehives.

·         Built for £188m, the building in part pays this investment back with the latest low impact, low carbon technology, natural air ventilation and water conservation systems, and an emphasis on recycling.

·         The ‘Golden Box’ forming the middle section of the building is inaccessible to the public and houses the Library Archives on these two, secure and environmentally controlled floors. 

·         Staff can only work for 30 minutes at a time in certain areas of the Golden Box due to the oxygen reduced conditions which help to limit fire risk.

·         “Flying books” and Audubon’s Birds of America form some of the current glass-housed displays in the dimly lit and atmospheric exhibition space on the 3rd floor.

·         Both of the gardens, accessible to all visitors, have been planted with fruit and vegetables as well as flowering plants to encourage interest in ‘grow your own’ 

·         A Falconer and her Peregrine regularly visit to ‘dissuade’ pigeons from roosting on the building, and the decorative cladding has been designed to limit nesting too.

·         The first book to be shelved in the Library was Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

No comments:

Post a Comment