Central Library, Birmingham

Birmingham Central Library was the main public library in Birmingham, England from 1974 until 2013. For a time the largest non-national library in Europe, it closed on 29 June 2013 and was replaced with the Library of Birmingham. The existing building was due to be demolished early in 2015 after 41 years, as part of the redevelopment of Paradise Circus by Argent Group. Designed by architect, John Madin in the brutalist style, the library was part of an ambitious development project by Birmingham City Council to create a civic centre on its new Inner Ring Road system; however due to economic reasons significant parts of the masterplan were not completed and quality was reduced on materials as an economic measure. Two previous libraries occupied the adjacent site before Madin’s library opened in 1974. The previous library was opened in 1883 and was designed by John Henry Chamberlain featuring a tall clerestoried reading room, this was demolished in 1974 after the new library had opened.

Despite the original vision not being fully implemented the library has gained architectural praise as an icon of British Brutalism with its stark use of concrete, bold geometry, inverted ziggurat sculptural form and monumental scale. Its style was seen at the time as a symbol of social progressivism. Based on this, English Heritage applied and failed twice for the building to gain listed status. However, due to strong opposition from Birmingham City Council the building gained immunity from listing until 2016.

In 2010–11 Central Library was the second most visited library in the country with 1,197,350 visitors.

As we were in Birmingham for the forum’s 10th anniversary festivities, we thought we should check out some of the abandoned establishments that the city had to offer, naturally… This hadn’t been on the ‘to do’ list originally, but as we were driving back to the hotel in the centre, I remembered that this one was still standing, and knew that it had limited time left doing so. Not expecting to actually get in, we went for a walk around it, and it would seem that on this particular day, luck happened to be on our side.

It’s fairly stripped all in all, but had some decent bits left, like the archives right at the top and the old Victorian spiral staircase leading up to them. It is rather large though, and having free reign on the place was pretty cool. The roof also had some semi-good views of the central area, with the new library just over the road.

A place where books are incinerated, not kept… – Prince Charles, Oct 1988

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