Saturday, 10 March 2012

Birmingham Central Library

John Madin has died.

He was the architect of the original Birmingham Library. I recently visited this building and found much to admire. Admittedly from the outside it’s fairly grim but it has quite a beautiful interior. It has an atrium surrounded by concrete waffle slabs, perhaps as beautiful as the interior of the Lloyds Building, perhaps more so.

It’s an example of mixed-use, long before this became received wisdom, with cafes on the ground floor and more private spaces as you ascend through the building’s section. I asked a librarian what she thought of it and she described it as a “hive of activity.” Indeed it has lots of different activity zones with quieter spaces for study, just what a library should be.

If you describe this as “a place for incinerating books” this obviously shows that you have fallen into the error of considering buildings simply as objects and failed to realise the importance of a building’s spatial qualities.

I know the decision to build a new library to the designs of Dutch practice Mecanno has now been taken, on a site a short distance away. It would be a shame to demolish the old library though it seems this decision has also been taken. It seems to be due to be replaced by a new development designed by Glenn Howells Architects.

 I know this is regarded as a piece of “Brutalist” architecture, a much unloved genre. However, much of this kind of architecture is not as bad as it often supposed to be; some of it is actually quite good. Perhaps the original building could have been saved if it had been given a re-modelled fa├žade.