The Mirrored Ceilings of Zhongshuge Bookstore in China!

September 28, 2016

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Imagine a movie set where 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and you get an idea of the new Zhongshuge bookstore in Hangzhou, China.

Designed by Shanghai-based architectural studio XL MUSE and located within the Star Avenue shopping complex, this extraordinary bookstore manages to transport the visitors out of their mundane reality and into an immersive realm of unbound fantasy, just like a good book of fiction is supposed to do.

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The store is comprised of four distinct spaces. Visitors are first welcomed by a glass facade covered in multi-lingual text behind which stretches an all-white, futuristic hall of cool brightness. Populating this space are randomly placed circular columns, displaying books in illuminated vertical shelving, and slender benches zigzagging through them. The designers’ intention behind this arrangement is to evoke a forest where “tree-like pillars”, as they poetically phrase it, “stand tall and emit the light of knowledge” and standing tall they do as they are reflected upwards by the mirrored ceiling which, along with the mirrored wall at the back, make the space seem of endless dimensions.

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Next is the “Reading Corridor”, a much darker space with full-height wooden bookcases extending “endlessly” on both sides and geometrical seating along its longitudinal axis. Here, the mirrored ceiling provides continuity from the previous space as well as creating the impression that the light fittings magically hover in midair like sky lanterns.

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Through a central doorway, the visitors then enter the “Reading Theater”, an oval space of similar aesthetic of dark shades and soft, warm lighting, with book-shelves and stepped seating lining the curved walls where padded cushions and reading lamps give the space a more relaxed, intimate feel.

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Lastly, the children’s reading room features an explosion of colorful displays shaped like a roller-coaster, a merry-go-round, a train, a pirate ship and hot air balloons, made all the more frenzied by the mirrored ceiling doubling certain shapes and completing others.

Resembling a space looks where someone has recorded a child’s dream of a playroom and reconstructed it down to its last detail, on the floor, a map of the galaxy educates children about the universe but also signifies how priceless it is to read your way to “a galaxy far, far away”…

Take a closer look at this fantastic bookstore!

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The World’s Most Beautiful Library is located in Shanghai

Posted by Gentlemen in China | Jun 25, 2016

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Located in Thames Town, The Zhongshuge-Hangzhou library is nominated by fans on Chinese social media as the most beautiful and impressive library.

EXTENDING ON MORE THEN 1000 SQUARE METERS AND SEPARATED ON NINE UNIQUE-THEMED ROOMS, THE BOOKSTORE HAS BEEN DESIGNED BY STUDIO XL MUSE ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN.

Nearly RMB 10 million was spent on the transformation of an empty building into this futuristic books labyrinth.

The whole atmosphere is unique, between Eastern and Western elements, in Thames Town, a British-style village and it is designed in the basis of ancient Chinese urban planning.

Zhongshu bookstore has nearly 50.000 books, with even foreign language books.

You can find books everywhere, between the artfully placed mirrors, beside the glass floor or the white cloudy monochrome spaces. They have also designed a kids area.

The bookstore is a piece of art that made print media start living again, specialy designed as a peaceful and impressive place to read books, to meditate and to get lost in the secret spaces waiting to be discovered. This is the paradise of readers and artists.

Zhongshu Books’ reputation has spread online and became very known through social media for its unique beauty.

And no worlds can describe the manificence of the place, so here are some pictures of the bookstore.

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Birmingham welcomes public library amidst national cuts

09-06-2013 10:20 BJT

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In Europe, the largest public library was unveiled in Birmingham earlier this week. The new design, with a hefty price tag, proves to have something for everyone.

Hundreds of people marked the opening of Europe’s largest public library in Birmingham. Ten years in the making, it is a strange time for the biggest civic library in Europe to be opening, after national cuts saw more than 200 local libraries close their doors last year.

The new library is linked by a generous open foyer to the neighbouring Repertory Theatre, also refurbished as part of the project, and there are plans for performances to spill into the library, with a sunken amphitheatre in the square intended to lure people inside.

Ed Vaizey, Minister of Culture, said, “I think it’s a measure of Birmingham ambition that they wanted to build Europe’s biggest library. Birmingham is Britain’s second city, but it’s also the youngest city in Europe, so I think it’s a very important point again to make that this young and vibrant city wants to put learning centre stage. And I think it’s good thing sometimes when London comes second to another city in the UK.”

With a reported price tag of 186 million pounds, the library occupies 29,000 square meters across 11 floors and is made up of stacked rectangular volumes. Designed to accommodate 10,000 visitors per day, the building comprises reading rooms, archives, research spaces, and an amphitheatre. One place to which many will no doubt flock are the outdoor terraces, created by the set-back form of the building, where readers can escape to sit among winding flowerbeds planted with edible fruit; from apple trees to raspberry bushes; and look out across the city to the rolling hills beyond.

Ed Vaizey, Minister of Culture, said, “You do need books at its heart but you also need to understand that books are just part of a wider picture. You need community space, you need technology, you need all sorts of things, you need a garden if you look at the example of Birmingham.”

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Birmingham to open largest public library in Europe

08-29-2013 14:37 BJT

BIRMINGHAM, Britain, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) — Library of Birmingham, the largest public library in Europe, will open to the public on Sept. 3.

Located in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the center of the England’s second largest city, the Library is expected to attract over 3 million visitors a year, with many more visiting online.

To celebrate the opening of the Library, which cost 188.8 million pounds (or 293 million U.S. dollars), a program, called “Discovery Seasons,” of exciting events and activities for all ages wil run until the end of 2013.

Designed by a team led by Netherlands-based architectural practice Mecanoo, the Library is a flagship project of Birmingham City Council’s 20-year Big City Plan.

The Library is set to transform the city’s library services and become a major cultural destination, housing Birmingham’s world-class collections of archives, photography and rare books as well as a million printed volumes, the largest number held by any public library in Britain.

At 31,000 square meters, the 10-level Library is around 20 percent larger than the old Central Library building, sharing a spacious entrance and foyer as well as a flexible studio theater seating 300 people with the Birmingham Repertory Theater. Located in the downtown, it will, along with the REP Theater and Symphony Hall, form a new cultural heart of the city.

The Library is unique for the depth and range of its internationally-important archive, heritage and photography collections. Six of its largest and most significant collections were recognized under the former Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) Designation Scheme in October 2005, more than any other public library, according to information of the Library.

These collections are Birmingham City Archives, the Birmingham Collection, Photographic Collection, Early and Fine Printing, Literature and Music Collection.

For example, the Library includes one of the world’s most comprehensive Shakespeare collections, which comprises 43,000 books, including copies of the First, Second, Third and Fourth folio editions and many rare, early and valuable editions of individual plays published before 1709.

The Library is owned by and serves the people of Birmingham — a “People’s Palace” in the words of its architect and Library of Birmingham Trustee Francine Houben.

Birmingham has 40 community libraries, a Mobile Library services, a Libraries at Home scheme for residents, delivering books and other library materials to people, according the public information.

21 things you might not know about Birmingham’s libraries past and present

As the Library of Birmingham marks its first anniversary, we look back at the history of library services in the city with 21 fascinating facts

Celebrating the first birthday of the new Library of Birmingham, here are 21 things you might not know about the city’s libraries past and present.

We have also delved into our own library of images for a gallery of 37 pictures marking the anniversary.

Here are 21 things you might not know about Birmingham’s libraries:

1. The very first Birmingham Library was founded sometime between 1635 and 1642 by puritan minister Francis Roberts.

2. It was one of the first public libraries in England.

3. The building was put up in 1655-1656 and it contained only books that the puritans would allow in it. Books deemed to be unfit for a public library were given to clergymen and schoolmasters in Moseley, King’s Norton and Wythall.

4. The library was disbanded when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies returned to power in the Restoration of 1660.

5. Birmingham’s first central library came just over 200 years later when the Birmingham Reference Library opened on October 26, 1866.

6. A fire in 1879 destroyed all but 1,000 books of the 50,000 in the building. It was rebuilt and reopened in June 1882.

7. As the collection of books grew, it was decided in 1938 that a new library was needed. But then World War II broke out so plans were out on hold. Eventually, the new Central Library opened in Chamberlain Square on January 12, 1974.

8. The Central Library was the largest public library in Europe. And in 2010–11 it was the second most visited library in the country (after Norwich) with 1,197,350 people passing through its doors, and was also Birmingham’s busiest building.

9. But the Prince of Wales didn’t like it. In the October 1988 BBC documentary A Vision of Britain, the Prince said the library, designed by John Madin in Brutalist style, looked like “a place where books are incinerated, not kept.”

10. Central Library closed on June 29, 2013, as its collection was moved to the new Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square.

11. Built for £189million, the Library of Birmingham is the largest public library in the UK, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe.

12. Initial plans for the new library had it split across two sites – with the main lending library to be in Centenary Square and the archives and special collections at Millennium Point. But that idea was scrapped.

13. Dutch architects firm Mecanoo and BupoHappold Engineering won a competition to create the new library, and in 2014, the Library of Birmingham was named West Midlands building of the year by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Patrick Arends from Mecanoo was named emerging architect of the year while the library’s owner Birmingham City Council was crowned client of the year.

14. In addition, Birmingham City Council’s assistant director of culture, Brian Gambles, who worked on the library project, was made an MBE for services to libraries, saying that “over 5,000 people have worked one way or another on creating the library and it just gives you a tremendous warm glow when you experience the reaction of visitors.”

15. The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, who spent his childhood in Birmingham, was the first book to be put on the shelves of the Library of Birmingham

16. The building has nine floors – six of them open to the public – and can hold 3,000 people.

17. Since its opening, there have been more than 400 events and 32 exhibitions in the building.

18. The library’s most valuable books are editions of Shakespeare’s First Folio and John James Audubon’s Birds of America, worth between £6million and £7million each.

19. There are about a million books in the library – and 316,000 books, DVDs and CDs have been borrowed in its first year. That’s almost twice as many as in the last full year (2011-2012) of the old Central Library.

20. More than 2.7 million people have visited the Library of Birmingham since it opened, compared with the 1.2 million in the last year of the Central Library.

21. There are more than 200 computers for public use in the building. Visitors use the computers 21,000 times a month, and nearly 5,000 people use the free wi-fi each month.

Gallery


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The Library of Birmingham as seen from the Hyatt Hotel on Broad St.

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Stone laying ceremony in June 1970 at Birmingham’s old central library.

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Endless lines of books in a cramped Birmingham Reference Library in 1967.

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Birmingham’s old central library.

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Birmingham’s old central library in June 1973.

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Children are read to at Birmingham’s old central library.

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Architect John Madin outside the Birmingham Rep (designed by Graham Winteringham) where the new Central Library may be sited, in 2007.

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Architect John Madin outside the Birmingham Central Library which he feels has been ruined by shops, in 2007.

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16 year old Malala Yousafzai who survived an attempt on her life by the Taliban in Pakistan, makes a speech outside as she opens the new Library of Birmingham in 2013.

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The Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square, in 2013.

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Laura Norton reading a book in the children’s section of the Library of Birmingham, in 2013.

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Workmen work on a transparent lift shaft near the dome at the Library of Birmingham in preparation for its official opening on September 3rd 2013.

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Amaan, Aaliyah and Asad Hussain in one of the reading pods a the newly opened Library of Birmingham, in 2013.

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Musicians from Super Critical Mass perform at the opening of the Library of Birmingham in 2013.

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Malala Yousafzai speaks to the crowd at the opening of the Library of Birmingham in 2013.

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The Library of Birmingham celebrates its opening as thousands of people turn up to view its fantastic new facilities, in 2013.

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The Library of Birmingham celebrates its opening as thousands of people turn up to view its fantastic new facilities, in 2013.

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Bizarre characters in red outside the Library of Birmingham for the 4 Squares Weekender.

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Barbar the elephant celebrates his 80th birthday at The Library of Birmingham with lots of local children.

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HRH The Duke of Cambridge visits The Library of Birmingham and meets children from Chandos Primary School in Highgate.

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Shelan Abdulla from Craft Space at the Story Meadow Exhibition at the Library of Birmingham.

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Birmingham Central Library from the book Lost Victorian Britain by Gavin Stamp.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, with Jasper Carrott, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of his place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Rai Singh and Bryan Adams attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff Lynne’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, with Jasper Carrott and the Lord Mayor, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, with Roy Wood, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Aston Villa footballers Grant Holt and Jed Steer visit the Library of Birmingham to help promote reading amongst primary school children.

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The Library of Birmingham, which has made the shortlist for the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize for the best new building.

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Hollywood actor David Harewood on top of the Library of Birmingham promoting the Pride of Birmingham awards.

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Birmingham Reference Library at Ratcliffe Place, in March 1961.

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Students at work in Birmingham’s Central Reference Library in February 1960.

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Birmingham Reference Library at Ratcliffe Place, in 1960.

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‘Zombie’ Kazz Anwar at the Library of Birmingham for a tour in preparation for a big zombie walk in Birmingham.

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The Library of Birmingham under construction, as seen from the corner of Brindley Drive and Cambridge St.

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Birmingham’s old Central Library.

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The Library of Birmingham.

Library of Birmingham by Wikipedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Library of Birmingham is a public library in Birmingham, England. It is situated on the west side of the city centre at Centenary Square, beside the Birmingham Rep (to which it connects, and with which it shares some facilities) and Baskerville House. Upon opening on 3 September 2013, it replaced Birmingham Central Library. The library, which is estimated to have cost £188.8 million,is viewed by the Birmingham City Council as a flagship project for the city’s redevelopment. It has been described as the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe, and the largest regional library in Europe. 2,414,860 million visitors came to the library in 2014 making it the 10th most popular visitor attraction in the UK.

Contents
1 History
1.1 Background
1.2 Reception
1.3 Construction
1.4 Opening
1.5 Awards
1.6 Operations
2 Air-conditioning
3 Collections
4 Partnerships and funding

History


Background

Birmingham City Council looked into relocating the library for many years. The original plan was to build a new library in the emerging Eastside district, which had been opened up to the city centre following the demolition of Masshouse Circus. A library was designed by Richard Rogers on a site in the area. However, for financial reasons and reservations about the location this plan was shelved. The Council suggested that the Library be split between a new building built between the Rep Theatre and Baskerville House at Centenary Square, which until 2009 was a public car park (to house the main lending library) and a building at Millennium Point in “Eastside” (to house the archives and special collections).

In August 2006, the Council confirmed the area between the Rep Theatre and Baskerville House as the future site for the library. Capita Symonds had been appointed as Project Managers for the Library of Birmingham. The council’s intention was to create a “world class” landmark civic building in Centenary Square. Not long after this, the two-sites idea was scrapped and the archives and special collections will move to the site at Centenary Square.

After an international design competition, run by the Royal Institute of British Architects, a shortlist of seven architects was announced on 27 March 2008. They were chosen from a list of over 100 architects. The architects chosen were: Foreign Office Architects, Foster and Partners, Hopkins Architects, Mecanoo, OMA, Schmidt hammer lassen and Wilkinson Eyre.

In early August 2008, Mecanoo and multi-discipline engineers, Buro Happold, were announced as the winner of the design competition. More detailed plans for the library were revealed by the council in conjunction with the architects at a launch event held on 2 April 2009.

The previous Central Library failed for the second time to gain status as a listed building. Work was scheduled to begin on demolishing the old library early in 2015 to make way for the redevelopment of Paradise Circus.

Reception

Reaction to the planned library was generally positive. Then-Poet Laureate Andrew Motion said that “These plans are properly ambitious to preserve the best traditional practice, while also opening the building to new ideas about what a library should be—the heart of the community, fulfilling all manner of social needs as well as scholarly, research-based and pleasurable ones.” Philip Pullman said “The new Library of Birmingham sounds as if it will be lovely and should attract even more users than the present one with its impressive visitor total of 5,000 a day.” Sir Alan Ayckbourn said “I wholeheartedly support the proposed exciting new plans to develop the new Birmingham library” and Irvine Welsh said “[It’s] an audacious and compelling initiative which promises to redefine and modernise the entire notion of public library services, and in the process create the greatest public information resource in Europe … Writers will love it, and so will readers.” Architect of the Birmingham Central Library, John Madin, criticised the building as not fit for purpose in 2011. Madin said “They are spending all this money on a new library which is no better than the existing one. Eighty per cent of it will not have natural light and does not meet the standards of the existing building.” In the first year of opening 2.7 million visitors passed through the doors of the library. In 2015 visitor numbers dropped to 1.8 million visits; this still made the library 11th most popular visitor attraction in the UK and the most popular outside of London.

Construction

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The book rotunda from Level 3

Preparation of the ground for building, and archaeological work between Baskerville House and The Rep had begun before planning permission had been granted. Planning permission was finally granted and approved by Birmingham City Council in December 2009. Building work, which was undertaken by Carillion, commenced in January 2010, with a completion schedule for 3 September 2013. A topping out ceremony to mark the completion of the highest part of the building took place on 14 September 2011.

Opening

The formal opening on 3 September 2013 was conducted by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, and who now lives in Birmingham. Before unveiling a plaque, she said “Let us not forget that even one book, one pen, one teacher can change the world”.

Awards

At the 2014 RIBA West Midlands Awards, the Library of Birmingham was named overall West Midlands building of the year Mecanoo architect Patrick Arends won emerging architect of the year and Birmingham City Council won client of the year.

In the June 2014 birthday honours, the library’s director, Brian Gambles, was made MBE “for services to libraries”.

On 17 July 2014 the Library of Birmingham was nominated as one of the six short-listed buildings for the 2014 Stirling Prize, awarded for excellence in architecture.

Operations

In December 2014 Birmingham City Council proposed reducing the opening hours of the library because of a council funding shortfall, and in February 2015 confirmed opening hours will be reduced from 73 hours per week to 40 hours per week, saving £1.3 million per year on running costs and involving making redundant about half of the 188 library staff. From 20 April 2015 the library will open from 11am-7pm Monday and Tuesday, 11am-5pm Wednesday to Saturday and close on Sundays.

Air-conditioning


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Decoration on the exterior of the building

The library uses an aquifer ground source system to reduce energy consumption. Cold groundwater is pumped up from within the earth and used in the air conditioning system. The water flows back into the ground via another drilled well. The use of groundwater as a source of renewable energy lowers the library’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Collections


The library has nationally and internationally significant collections, including the Boulton and Watt archives, the Bournville Village Trust Archive, the Charles Parker Archive, the Parker collection of children’s books, the Wingate Bett transport ticket collection, the Railway and Canal Historical Society Library; and the photographic archives of the Warwickshire photographic survey, Sir Benjamin Stone, John Blakemore and Val Williams; and is in the process of acquiring that of Daniel Meadows.

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Shakespeare Memorial Room

The specialist Shakespeare Memorial Room was designed in 1882 by John Henry Chamberlain for the first Central Library. When the old building was demolished in 1974 Chamberlain’s room was dismantled and later fitted into the new concrete shell of the new library complex. When the Library of Birmingham was built, it was again moved, to the top floor. It houses Britain’s most important Shakespeare collection, and one of the two most important Shakespeare collections in the world; the other being held by the Folger Shakespeare Library. The collection contains 43,000 books including rare items such as a copy of the First Folio 1623; copies of the four earliest Folio editions; over 70 editions of separate plays printed before 1709 including three “Pavier” quartos published in 1619 but falsely dated. There are significant collections from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, a near complete collection of Collected Works, significant numbers of adaptations, anthologies and individual editions.

The Boulton and Watt Collection is the archive of the steam engine partnership of Matthew Boulton and James Watt, dating from its formation in 1774 until the firm’s closure in the 1890s. The archive comprises about 550 volumes of letters, books, order books and account books, approximately 29,000 engine drawings and upwards of 20,000 letters received from customers. Boulton and Watt manufactured the screw engines for Brunel’s SS Great Eastern and the archive includes a portfolio of 13 albumen prints by Robert Howlett documenting the construction of the Great Eastern, including a rare variant of the Brunel portrait of 1857.

Partnerships and Funding


In July 2014 a collaboration with the British Library launched the Library of Birmingham’s Business and IP Centre which offered support services for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

In 2016 the library worked on a cultural collaboration with the British Library. As part of this a project around the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare took place. The collaboration was funded by the British Library Trust and tested a new way of working collaborations between the British Library and public libraries in the UK.

From July 2015 until 2016, Google took over part of the first floor for training businesses in its Digital Garage initiative.

In early 2016 the library extended weekday opening hours to 9 am to 9 pm after an agreement was made with the Council run Brasshouse Language Centre to occupy space in the building. The opening hours increased from 40 hours to 66 but still short of the original 73 hours and on Sundays, will remain closed. The Brasshouse Language Centre moved into the first floor in September 2016 from their previous location on Sheepcote Street.

Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo

Amy Frearson | 29 August 2013

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Dutch studio Mecanoo has completed Europe’s largest public library in Birmingham, England, with a sunken amphitheatre, rooftop gardens and a shimmering facade clad with interlocking metal rings.

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Sandwiched between a 1930s building and a 1960s theatre, the new Library of Birmingham fronts one of three piazzas that comprises Centenary Square. The building is made up of a stack of four rectangular volumes, which are staggered to create various canopies and terraces.

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Mecanoo designed the exterior of the building to reference the city’s jewellery quarter, adding a filigree pattern of metal rings over golden, silver and glass facades.

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Inside, these rings cast patterns of shadows onto the floors of the reading rooms in the middle levels of the building.

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“I didn’t want to make a brick building, because we needed a lot of light, but I didn’t want to make a glass building either,” architect Francine Houben told Dezeen. “It’s so beautiful to sit inside because of the reflections and the shadows, and the changing of the weather. It’s different from December to June.”

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A gently sloping floor allows the building to negotiate the level change from the front to the back of the site, but also leads visitors down to the fiction area at the back, then down to the children’s library and music section at the base of the building.

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“We needed many ground floors,” said Houben, “so we introduced a ground floor, a mezzanine, a mid-lower ground floor and a mid-mid-lower ground floor in the form of gently descending terraces.”

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The lowest level extends out beneath Centenary Square, where the architects have created a sunken circular courtyard that functions as an informal amphitheatre.

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The three main reading-room floors branch out from a staggered rotunda at the centre of the building, integrating rows of bookshelves and clusters of study spaces. There are also benches and stools lining the perimeter, offering views down the square below.

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Archives and research spaces occupy the levels above, while an oval space at the top of the structure houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room – dedicated to the library’s extensive collection of works by English playwright William Shakespeare. Dating back to 1882, the room has been relocated twice from former library buildings.

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Plant-filled terraces cover two of the rooftops, creating spaces for visitors to read and study outside.

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Referring to the library as a “public palace”, Houben told Dezeen how she sees the building as an important landmark for the city community. “I think libraries at this moment are the most important public buildings, like cathedrals were many years ago,” she said.

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Francine Houben founded Mecanoo in 1984 and the studio’s best-known designs include the Maritime and Beachcombers Museum and the TU Delft Library, both in the Netherlands. Mecanoo was also recently shortlisted to design the World Expo 2017 exhibition in Astana, Kazakhstan.

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Other libraries completed recently include a faceted multimedia library in France and a university library in the US that features a robotic book retrieval system. See more libraries on Dezeen »

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Photography is by Christian Richters.

Read on for a project description from Francine Houben:


A People’s Palace

In June 2008 I visit Birmingham for the first time of my life. Mecanoo is one of seven international architecture firms shortlisted to design the new Library of Birmingham integrated with the Repertory Theatre (REP). In this project, the written and the spoken word will be united. The client wants to select the best team to help them realise their ambitions for an innovative and world-class library that will become the largest library in Europe with ten thousand people expected to visit every day.

Birmingham is a multicultural British city of a little over one million people from very different backgrounds. It has many identities, both culturally and architecturally. It is not only Europe’s youngest city with 25% of the population under 25 years old but it’s also a student city with 50,000 students, second in student population only to London.

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Library of the future for Birmingham

I meet library director Brian Gambles and his staff, he tells us enthusiastically that “the Library of Birmingham will become a centre of learning, information and culture that will help to foster Birmingham’s knowledge economy. It is intended to become the social heart of the city; a building connecting people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. The modern library is no longer solely the domain of the book – it is a place with all types of content and for all types of people. The library’s influence will also extend beyond the physical boundaries of the building, its global digital presence allowing the public to access content from anywhere in the world.”

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Shakespeare Memorial Room

The very first Library of Birmingham dates back to the year 1865. This building burns down in 1879, along with most of the collection. After the fire a group of citizens unite to form ‘Our Shakespeare Club’, a civic pride movement that brings together one of the most comprehensive Shakespeare collections in the world. When the Victorian Library opens its doors in 1882 at Radcliff Place, it incorporates a Shakespeare Memorial Room, a reading room designed especially for the Shakespeare Library by John Henry Chamberlain, a member of the city’s Shakespeare club. In 1974, the Victorian Library is replaced by the Central Library at Paradise Circus a brutalist building designed by architect John Madin. The Shakespeare Memorial Room is dismantled and stored. Twelve years later it is reassembled in the School of Music, located next to the Central Library. The intention is to integrate the Shakespeare Memorial Room in the new library.

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James Watt and Matthew Boulton

Besides the extraordinary Shakespeare Collection, the library staff shows us their unique historic photo collection as well as original drawings and notebooks by 18th and 19th century inventors James Watt and Matthew Boulton. The Birmingham Music Library has extensive special collections. Music groups such as Black Sabbath, UB 40, Electric Light Orchestra, Duran Duran and The Streets are all “Brummies” from Birmingham.

The ‘Red Line’

For three days my husband and I endlessly walk through this city I’ve never been to before. I observe and photograph everything that catches my eye in order to unravel the essence of the city and the people. In the evening we go to a performance at the REP Theatre. From our hotel we try to take the shortest route by foot to the theatre but on our way we are blocked by highways that cut through the city centre. After the show we decide to follow the crowd and discover they take a logical, informal pedestrian route right through the heart of the city. I call this route the ‘Red Line’ as it connects the Bullring Shopping Centre, New Street Station, New Street, Victoria Place, Centenary Square, the ICC, the canals, Brindley Place and the Westside. The new library site is located in the middle of the Red Line next to the existing REP in Centenary Square.

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The rhythm of architectural history

Two things strike me during our walks. First, when following the Red Line, the entire architectural and urban history of Birmingham passes by like a film. The city breathes a rich industrial history: Gothic buildings from the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, Victorian Classicist buildings such as Birmingham Town Hall from 1834, as well as many Victorian buildings made with beautiful craftsmanship. Birmingham has more canals than Venice. These narrow canals were created in the 18th and 19th century in order to guarantee the supply of coal. Also in this frame are buildings such as the Baskerville House from the early 20th century and concrete buildings such as the existing library from the 1960s, the ICC from the eighties, and the Bullring Shopping mall with the Selfridges blob from 2003. Scattered around the city, the steel skeletons of gas holders catch my eye.

Gently sloping hills

The second thing I notice is that Birmingham is built on gently sloping hills. It’s a green city, except for the city centre. I love these soft hills. They remind me of my native province of Limburg in the South of the Netherlands. I notice the way train tracks cut through these hills and valleys, appearing and disappearing in the landscape. Birmingham is the geographical centre of the UK and a junction of the British railroads. One train tunnel runs underground diagonally through Centenary Square. It occurs to me that we can surely build underground here, whereas in my own country this is a challenge. This idea becomes a source of inspiration.

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Dream

After three days my dream slowly starts to take shape. Back at the office we develop our ideas further. Does the client expect us to make an icon? For sure we do not want to design a building that is just another “incident”. We want to make a building that brings coherence to the urban network of Birmingham. Our dream is to create a People’s Palace: inviting, welcoming, inspiring for all ages and backgrounds – a real public building that also creates an outdoor public space. One that entices passers-by to enter and embark on a journey of discovery. We imagine visitors moving from one floor to the next through interconnected and overlapping rotunda spaces that serve as the main vertical circulation route. Changing vistas and view lines unfold as you navigate through the building. On the lower levels the route continues below ground nearly to the train tunnel that passes in front of the building, and resurfaces in Centenary Square. At this point this interior route weaves itself with the ‘Red Line’ route revealing a piece of the inner library world to the public.

Team as a symphony orchestra

In August 2008 the Mayor announces that we have won. I feel confident. I trust that we can make a strong design within the tight one year time schedule. A contractor is to be selected within three months. Mecanoo has a strong team and a lot of experience with libraries and theatres. We also have architectural, urban planning, landscape, interior design and restoration disciplines in house. The Mecanoo team can work together as a symphony orchestra and along with a compact interdisciplinary consultant team. We open our Mecanoo UK office in Birmingham and roll up our sleeves!

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Detailed section – click for larger image

The search continues

Our search for the essence of the city continues. Local historian Carl Chinn guides us through Birmingham and explains that building materials used to come from local sources – hence the many buildings made with red and blue bricks and the extensive use of steel. Limestone was the material of choice to represent the international city in the 19th or 20th century. Examples of this are Town Hall and Baskerville House. In the last fifty years additional materials included: concrete, glass, modern red bricks and aluminium disks. So which material are we to use amidst the composition of this city?

The rhythm of the city: not one but two buildings

We want our design to fit into the rhythm of the city, so we make a critical decision that the Library integrated with the REP Theatre will not become one building, but two. Together with Baskerville House, they will form an ensemble of three palazzos along a square, each with its own materialisation – first, Baskerville House, a limestone building from 1938, then the REP Theatre, an optimistic concrete building from 1971. Between them is the library of 2013 with its metal filigree façade of interlocking circles. We propose the three identities to be reflected in Centenary Square: a more formal area in front of Baskerville House containing the Hall of Memory, an open event space in front of the REP and the Symphony Hall, and a more intimate soft landscaped space in front of the library.

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Ground floor plan – click for larger image

Intermezzo: the Repetory Theatre

In February 2009, I have lunch with Graham Winteringham, architect of the Repertory Theatre. I meet a respectable, enthusiastic man of age and a faithful visitor of the REP. “How did you actually come to this project?” I ask him. He tells me that he studied architecture in Birmingham after the Second World War. First he designed the small Crescent Theatre with a revolutionary 360 degree rotating stage. Because he was the only architect in Birmingham with theatre experience, he was commissioned in 1964 to design the theatre for one of the most influential theatre groups in the history of English theatre, the REP. He told me that the project was actually a nightmare. The program requirements were a hall with 900 seats, without balconies. Another salient detail in this program was that there had to be many more men’s than ladies’ toilets because the audience was mainly male! In 1964, the building is contracted, but the Wilson government orders all public projects on hold. Winteringham must wait three and half years, and in this time, his mind is still designing. But he can no longer make changes, no matter how many reasons there are to do so. Originally, the plan was to have a reflective pond in the front, so he designs arched windows. The water would reflect a beautiful scene. This pond never came to be. Stairs as exterior sculptural elements connecting the underground parking garage also never left the page. A steep slope that looks out of place at the rear of the building is a remnant of the idea to make Cambridge Street one storey lower, making it level with the abrasive highways that cut through the centre of Birmingham. Cambridge Street was never lowered.

I describe our first ideas to Graham Winteringham. We don’t intend to demolish the REP, but to maintain the unique hall in the shape of a Greek theatre. We want to restore the original auditorium and foyer and improve the façade by deep cleaning it and replacing the glass with high performance glazing. However, we intend to renew the entire back of house: the theatre technology, logistics and workshops. He is very glad to hear his building will not be demolished.

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First floor plan – click for larger image

Four masterplans for Birmingham in eighty years

I realise that this architect has seen four master plans for the city come and go. In the thirties, it was the Grand Plan of a French signature in all public buildings, a monumental type of Champs Elysées. Three buildings have been built in the classical, monumental spirit with limestone facades, including Baskerville House and the circular Hall of Memory in front of it. The Second World War draws a line straight through the Grand Plan. In the sixties, a master plan reflecting the spirit of the times is produced: optimistic grand gestures, many demolitions, space for cars and lots of concrete. A new central library forms the transition to the old city centre. In 1974, a sculptural, brutalist building opens its doors. An influential city architect determines that the facade is created not of marble but in modern pre-cast concrete panels. The REP is also from this period. The master plan of the nineties – the era of urban renewal – generates a large conference centre, the ICC, next to the REP, with a concert hall on the other side of Centenary Square. This is indeed a successful project as Birmingham becomes the conference centre of the UK, second only to London.

In 2008, Birmingham works on its fourth Big City Plan with the new library and the REP as the most important buildings. I feel a great responsibility to bring every period of the last century together at last, in a sustainable way for the coming century.

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Second floor plan – click for larger image

Composition of three palazzo’s

The three palazzo’s are all on the sunny side of Centenary Square. We make a large inviting canopy at the entrance that welcomes visitors to both the library and the REP, protecting them from the rain and shading them from the sun. The foyers of both buildings are to be connected. At the transition, the Studio Theatre is located, merging the spoken and the written word.

Once the urban strategy is determined, we conduct several massing studies in order to discern the most appropriate relationship between the new building, its immediate surroundings and the wider city. The result is a building form with three stacked volumes, each connected to the city at a different scale – the lower volume and terrace relating to Centenary Square, the middle volume to the district, and the upper volume to the city scale.

The stacking of the library volumes creates an opportunity for outdoor gardens, each one relating to the city at a different scale. The lower terrace – The Discovery Terrace – overlooks Centenary Square, and is the most public. In contrast, the upper terrace -The Secret Garden – has a more introverted, intimate atmosphere, reflecting its elevated position in the building. The sloping beds of the garden respond to the gentle slopes around Birmingham.

Perceived as an extension of the street, the library’s interior journey is intended as a sequence of events and experiences, each discernible from the next. The potential for extending this concept to the exterior was explored and is expressed both in the circular outdoor amphitheatre on Centenary Square and a ‘crowning’ rotunda on top of the building which houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room.

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Fourth floor plan – click for larger image

The essence of the building is the cross section

The layout of the library is organised for maximum public accessibility. One might expect the archives to be placed in the basement of the building, but in collaboration with Brian Gambles, we decide to bring the archives up. When the archives are buried in lower levels, no one sees them. The archives of Birmingham are something to be very proud of, something worth putting on display.

The most public functions are on the ground floor which simplifies the expected flow of 10,000 visitors per day. We need many ground floors, so we introduce a ground floor, a mezzanine, a mid-lower ground floor and a mid-mid-lower ground floor in the form of gently descending terraces. Finally a spacious lower ground floor, which is extended until the edge of the train tunnel, reaches out into Centenary Square. The stepping terraces allow the soft northern light to enter deep into the interior space and the amphitheatre in the square provides yet another source of daylight penetration. The children’s library is located on this floor along with the music library. The outdoor circular amphitheatre sets the tone as a performance space. We imagine the sound of a grand piano filling the air, beckoning the passers-by above to peer into the space below and stay a while.

A sequence of rotundas

It’s the cross section that drives the building and is based on a sequence of rotundas with the Book Rotunda at its centre. The Book Rotunda connects three floors with three main functions: the Public Library, The Discovery Terrace with the gallery and the Research Library. The Book Rotunda itself has five floors. It is an iconic space that celebrates books and can also be used for different kinds of events. Via escalators and travelators visitors can make their own journey through the Book Rotunda and the building. A round lift leads to The Secret Garden. On this floor are also staff offices and meeting rooms for public use. The Shakespeare Memorial Room on the roof can be reached directly by lift. This public lift with stairs featuring a Mecanoo Blue core forms a point of orientation to visitors making their journey through the library.

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Seventh floor plan – click for larger image

An ode to the circle

With its many different functions, the library is wrapped in a filigree pattern of metal circles which are bold and refined interlocking stories of industrial heritage, jewellery, people and knowledge. The large circles may symbolise the craftsmanship of the steel industry while smaller ones might refer to the 200-year tradition of craftsmanship of the gold and silver smiths of the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham unique in the UK and around the world. Every visitor – every Brummie – can provide their own interpretation, comparing them to the Olympic circles or to the Lord of the Rings. In fact, the façade of the building is designed primarily from within. Entering the library, the repeating circles generate shadows and reflections creating an unforgettable world inside the building. It is an inner world with its own panorama of continuously changing shadows, dependent upon weather, time of day and seasonal expression. With its rotundas and its façade, the building is an ode to the circle: an archetypical form that embodies universality, infinity, unity and timelessness.

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Basement plan – click for larger image

The interior: bold and refined

In the many meetings we have with the enthusiastic and involved user groups, we decide to create an interior that is both flexible and timeless, bold and refined, as well as easy to maintain. In the library the main materials and colours are natural stone, white ceramic flooring, oak, Mecanoo Blue, gold, glass and metal, as well as fleeting circles and shadows. In the Repertory Theatre the main materials and colours are concrete, white and red. Inside and outside we try to create a bold and refined building that reflects the spirit of Birmingham.