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When the doors to the Library of Bir- mingham opened on September 3, there certainly was no hushed silence to the news that the largest public library in Europe had just opened in the UK’s second largest city. Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo who won the bid in August of 2008, this modern day “People’s Palace”, as described by Francine Houben, creative director of Me- canoo, has been lauded as one of the most important cultural projects to have opened in the UK for years.


Better still, the total costs amounted to £186 million, well below the available budget of £193 million. The Library is a flagship project of the 20-year Big City Plan, focusing on the regeneration of Birmingham, the second largest city of the UK with 1 million inhabitants. Sited in Centenary Square it is designed, along with the Repertory Theatre and Symphony Hall, to form a new cultural heart for the city. It is an open, public building, welcoming everyone regardless of background or age. Houben comments, “Investing in knowledge is a key factor for the future success of a society. Libraries play a crucial role in this. They offer access to a collective knowledge bank and support self-development of large groups of people.”


The transparent façade is wrapped in a metal frieze of interlocking circles, a refer- ence to Birmingham’s industrial past. From the inside the circles offer a new panora- ma of the city. The interior is based on a sequence of ‘rotundas’ - circular voids that form the heart of the building, culminating in the impressive Book Rotunda. Lifts and escalators lead visitors on a journey through the building. These rotundas play an im- portant role not only in the routing through the library but also provide natural light and ventilation. The golden rooftop rotunda houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room, a restored Victorian reading room from 1882. The Outdoor Amphitheater can host events and small concerts. It is accessible from the Children’s Library on the ‘Lower Ground Floor’ which was designed as a separate library within the library. The first and sec- ond floors form a cantilever on the square that accommodates a public, green terrace. Buro Happold was appointed as part of the multi-disciplinary team on the project in 2008, working closely with Mecanoo. The library has been designed to be an ex- emplar low energy and sustainable building, minimising the impact on the external en- vironment and to run with 50% less energy demand than the old Central Library. The environmental and indoor climate strat- egy heavily influenced the building massing and form, in particular the size and shape of the atrium space, and responded to the


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