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Birmingham Central Library

Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom
1 of 4
The Paradise Forum with the Central Library to the right

The Birmingham Central Library is a public library in Birmingham it was completed in 1974. John Madin, an English architect and Birmingham local designed the Brutalist style building. In 2013 a new Birmingham library opened a few hundred meters away and despite conservation efforts Madin's Central library is to be demolished.

A City of Library's

Madin's Central Library was the third Central Library, after the first 'Central Lending Library' (which opened 1865/6, designed by the architect E.M.Barry) burnt down in 1879. It was then rebuilt and reopened in 1882, until this second library was demolished to make room for the Madin's brutalist building, construction of which began in the late 1960s. John Madin based its design on that of Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles's Boston City Hall (1963-68), which is an inverted ziggurat. The building is clad in pre-cast concrete panels, and the concrete is strongly expressed with a rough texture through abrasive blasting and exposed limestone aggregate.


The Central Library is located over the Paradise Forum and has a complex multi-level structure. The building was constructed in two parts, with the first section (a reference library) was constructed as a square building and the second section, the wing of the building which contained the children's library, lending library, quick reference library and administrative offices.

The inverted ziggurat rests on tall piers, whereas the lending library is a curving 3-storey wing. The piers and shapes were designed referencing the golden section. The upper stories of the reference library are stepped out from the ones below; this helps shield the windows so that direct light cannot damage the books. In contrast the Central Library's large floorplates benefit from a central atrium which allows daylight to flood into the central court. From 1989-1991 the library was enclosed with a glass roof and the central court of the Central Library was filled with shops. It was originally intended that the Central Library would be set in landscaped gardens, with five pools, and that Centenary Square could be extended at full width to the library.

Future Fate

The English Heritage has twice recommended the Central Library to be listed but nevertheless the building will be demolished, like other landmarks by John Madin in Birmingham, for example the Post and Mail building (demolished in 2005). Many are campaigning for the existing building to be maintained and kept as it is.

The fourth Library of Birmingham was designed by the Dutch architects Mecanoo Architecten. The new library opened in August 2013 within a new complex that connects the library to the Birmingam Repertory Theatre.

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timkos, August 29th, 2013
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