Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo Architecten

Libraries tend to become more open to the exterior world, more attractive through their architecture and various auxiliary services like exhibition halls, cafes and lounge spaces. Most new public libraries have this friendly concept which you can compare to the older "neoclassical" one where the library was strictly a repository of knowledge (books mostly) and people went there only to study. Now people can go to the library to socialize, and have a coffee while reading for their exams. This doesn't mean that the main idea of a library is being shadowed by entertainment, on the contrary, it offers people the opportunity to spend some time in a healthy and educational environment. Although this isn't strictly an European phenomenon, I like to think of these libraries as a reaction to the American concept of a shopping mall, the European knowledge-based society (1) versus American consumerism.

Regarding the new Library of Birmingham I must say I am not totally convinced, but considering that it is still in construction I won't be making any conclusions yet. It will have around 35 000 square meters and is situated in the Centenary Square, next to the Repertory Theater from the 1960s and the Baskervill House from 1936. The building has an interesting circle / square game going on, from a distance it seems to be a block of steel and glass but when you get closer and even go in "the belly of the beast" you find the circles. First of all, the facade is made up of circles, here is what Francine Houben, Founding partner of Mecanoo Architecten (the ones responsible for the project) said:
With the circular pattern of the metal framework the Library of Birmingham honours the city’s industrial heritage, in particular the craftsmanship in metal work. For me the circles symbolise unity, and relate well to the purpose of the metal frieze, unifying the different functions within the building with one gesture and expressing openness to the public.
For my heavily politicized mind, however, that metal framework looks like an infinite rendition of the NATO emblem, and besides that, I find these aesthetic elements very constraining and "heavy". If they would of stopped at the black circles/stars (and made them white) it could of been something interesting, but now it looks like that building is suffocating under the weight of the facade. But as I said earlier, I am willing to wait till the building is finished. The other circles are the rotundas scattered inside the building which serve both to ease routing and provide natural light and ventilation. The building will be connected with the REP through a shared theater and a foyer space.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Another element that caught my attention is the underground level that extends under the Centenary Square but without being separated from the ground level. We again find the circle in the form of an opening in the roof/pavement, yet it seems it will not function as an entrance. I love this idea, in fact this is one of the reasons I decided to present this project. I look forward to see how it will cope during storms if they will not cover it with glass. The building is scheduled to be finished in the summer of 2013.

Copyright Mecanoo Architecten
Copyright Mecanoo Architecten

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