Archives for category: Central Library

Peter Beck wrote to the Birmingham Post on Thursday December 6th 2018:

While agreeing that “the Paradise Project is a fiasco” (no name and address Post letter 29 Nov 2018) I draw a somewhat different conclusion as to who is to blame. I also think that Jonathon Walker’s article (Post 29th Nov) should perhaps have been titled “Council anger with Amey”.  However Carl Jackson’s article (Post 22 Nov 2018) is very revealing and there is so much for us to learn from this disaster of a development.


It is of course questionable as to whether Birmingham City Council (BCC) should be seeking partnerships with, or to employ the likes of Capita, Carillion, and Amey.  They have proved a very costly exercise. 

And why should we trust Argent, the present managers of this development?  Such companies and unelected organisations such as the LEP and PCLP (mysterious bodies to most of us) are out of BCC control, and unaccountable to the residents of Birmingham.

It does beg the question as to why we continue to demolish perfectly good existing buildings and spaces (offices, hotels, parking spaces, public spaces, shops, restaurants and cafes etc) only to replace them with the same.

After all, this requires a huge amount of embedded energy and contributes to climate change.  A good example is the Central Library. The original plan of architect John Madin for its setting was ignored, it was done on the cheap, and then successive administrations (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) neglected and failed to maintain it.  Even so, the cost of refurbishing was estimated at £38m while the new one has so far cost more than £100m.

The new one has resulted in a drastic reduction in staff hours with an opening time of 11.00 a.m. – hardly a “world class” facility/service as originally claimed!  Further, it has led to the closure of the unique Brasshouse Languages Centre building and the transfer of its language classes (with the recent loss of English as a Foreign Language classes).  The fee payments are presumably helping to fund the Library but the classrooms do not adequately meet the students’ needs.

Another farcical aspect of the Paradise Project is its treatment of public spaces.  Centenary Square is being dug up yet again but the new version will be quite inferior to its original “gardens” ancestor.

My conclusion is that BCC should avoid private/public joint ventures and it should restrain those senior officers who currently work hand in glove with developers. We should once again give the councils the in-house resources they need to carry out the restoration, reuse, recycling, repair, refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings. Lots of permanent jobs would then be created. 






Gone but not forgotten – but will Birmingham ever learn?

Mary Keating, from campaign group Brutiful Birmingham, asks why Birmingham seems to dislike its Brutalist history so much

 Birmingham’s Central Library before demolition

Read on here:




Future world monument? Unlikely!


New images which are said to show how the project will transform the city

The Express and Star quotes Argent’s claim that the new buildings – One and Two Chamberlain Square – will complement the existing civic buildings including the town hall, council house and the museum and art gallery. The Express and Star asks what readers think. First comment: comes from Jessmere:

“Yeah ‘stunning new CGI images’ of yet another nondescript glass, steel and concrete box”

These buildings will replace the Madin library (above) – the second-highest used in the country, listed in 2011 by the World Monuments Fund – as a significant building at risk.



That library really did ‘complement the existing civic buildings’.


On 6th July, Liz Palmer of Greenhill Genealogy is giving a free illustrated talk in the Cinema Room at the newly restored Stirchley Baths.

stirchley house history leaflet

Liz was Library & Archives Assistant in Archives and Heritage at the Library of Birmingham (formerly Birmingham Central Library) where she delivered nearly 20 family history workshops. In 2013 she graduated with a postgraduate diploma in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies from Strathclyde University and has been doing freelance work as a genealogist since January 2014.When the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy arose at the end of July 2015 she took it to allow her more time to spend on genealogical and heritage pursuits.

 stirchley house lecturer

At an NEC exhibition, Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015, Brian Gallagher of Ancestry interviewed Liz about her work and in particular about a talk she had given the previous day about Coroners’ Inquest Records. It was recorded here:–TIt46AU&list=PLIGqe53sS90cBV0YmfLE4NQt4EFLvKHz1

All welcome.



This is the title of an article by Edwin Heathcote, architect, designer and author.

library2 madin christmas

Birmingham: most of the city destroyed over the 20th century, either by bombs or by bulldozers . . . Now the bulldozers are back. This week demolition work began on the massive inverted ziggurat of the City Library.

The library designed by John Madin, one of the greatest British brutalist buildings, is now going. Heathcote asks “Is the city still a place of pioneering architecture?”

He points out that the building, Europe’s biggest non-national library, a proud public monument, which was to have been set amid a series of nine water gardens, had been compromised by budget cuts – and later ‘stuffed with low-budget shops’ – a disappointment after the ‘monumental exterior’.

edwin heathcoteMecanoo’s new building was something very different. Veiled in metallic rings, Heathcote (right) thinks that it resembles a Louis Vuitton store rather than a piece of civic infrastructure. He comments: “It certainly made a splash, but the huge expense of running it has sucked money from other services. Smaller libraries have been forced to close and its opening hours have been severely curtailed”.

He concludes: “Birmingham is in danger of losing what made it a unique and intriguing repository of British modernism, but perhaps that is exactly its nature — to be the showcase of the modern — and today that modernity is a globalised architecture of banality”.

The article may be read here – it might require free registration.

Picture sent as a Christmas card to members of the Brutiful Action Group and delivered to Council leaders – see

“(The Madin Library) is an iconic building of the 70s. We need to keep examples of the best architecture of every era”, said Jen, who was lobbying councillors going into the Council House reception entrance.

clancy entranceOn December 1st, as councillors arrived for the first meeting with John Clancy, the new leader of Birmingham city council, many gave their views for and against the retention and reuse of the Madin Library’s ‘ziggurat’ (pictured in leaflet) to campaigners at three entrances to the Council House.

A reporter present placed an account on the BBC website.

clancy library joeCouncillors were offered a copy of the leaflet designed by Joe (right), calling for the building to be given an alternative use.

Alan Clawley, who has written books about the library and its local architect John Madin, hopes that it can still be saved:

“Although we previously held a wake for it, there is still some life in the building”. A Certificate of Immunity from Listing runs out in January and campaigners will apply to have the building listed.

clancy library leaflet

The campaign ended with an address by Mary Keating (below left), who pointed out that it was “internationally” significant, as the petition she presented at the Council House had been signed by people all over the world. She described the 1974 structure as a “Marmite building”, either loved or loathed, but insisted that either way it must be saved because of its importance.

Many present expressed confidence in the new council’s leader’s proposed policies and look forward to an exchange of views with him in due course. Ms Keating held up a copy of an open letter to Cllr Clancy on the subject.

clancy library letterclancy library alan








Mary continued: “The site can be developed with the Library as the centrepiece. The alternative development plan, that retains the Library, does not compromise the new road layout, and is comparable in density and floorspace to the Argent masterplan. . .

“Demolition has begun around the edges of the Library, our mission is to save the main structure the iconic Ziggurat. The Council have said on their website that the demolition of the main structure will not commence until Spring 2016. Time to apply and process a listing application that will be made on the 11th January 2016” .

Alan Clawley (above right), who has been campaigning to save the Library since 2002, is publishing ‘The Library Story’, which will be launched on the 18th December, and tells the story of the protracted campaign. If you would like to reserve a copy of the book or support the campaign contact Mary Keating at

Mary ended: “I think we now have the support of a new generation of people in Birmingham who love the building and have grown up with it”.

Anna Douglas, chair of the West Midlands branch of the 20th Century Society, has given ongoing support and sent photographs taken on Dec 1st, from which the pictures of Mary, Alan and Joe were clipped.

For more information go to

Both events occurred when Mark Rogers (now Birmingham’s Chief Executive and Director of Economy) was at the helm.

brasshouse 2

The renowned Brasshouse Language Centre, part of Birmingham Adult Education Services, and its landmark Birmingham building, has been under threat.

One of the Birmingham City Council officials – charged with tackling the massive local authority financial deficit – said that the building does not have ‘long-term viability’.

In May, students contacted the Post, claiming the centre was being starved of funds, that quality was in decline and that senior management figures were not being replaced. Entrepreneur Simon Nicholls said he strongly opposed the council cutting senior posts at the Brasshouse by 50% and a spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council admitted some staff had not been replaced, but was unable to provide exact figures.

Sheila Ward said:“There has been an increasing feeling that it was being allowed to run down deliberately to the point where someone, at some stage, would declare that it could not continue. Many might say that the building is possibly the least of the problems faced by Brasshouse. There has been a totally predictable reduction in the range and levels of languages on offer which can be attributed to decisions taken by those with little knowledge of or apparent interest in the valuable contribution the work of this centre can make to the regeneration and development of international trade in the whole region”.

brasshouse languages 30

The Brasshouse, which currently offers training in 30 languages, will operate as Brasshouse @ Library of Birmingham following the move in September 2016. The move will secure the future of the Brasshouse centre, which caters for 7,000 students and should improve the viability of the ailing Central Library project.

patrick willcocksAn admission of failure is cheerfully presented as success by Patrick Willcocks, who worked on supporting the Smart City agenda within the Council and extols expensive city centre development achieved at the expense of the periphery – the underprivileged.

Mr Willcocks, the named consultant for EUPA Consulting Ltd, currently lecturing at the University of Birmingham on Europe and structural funds, defends city development priorities set by successive councils as an actor in the ‘re-imaging’ of cities.(EUPA header)

eupa header

This exercise, within a wider context of competition between cities for investment, has fuelled speculative development, which fails to address underlying economic problems – as David Bailey notes in a forthcoming volume (Bailey et al, 2015).

The city’s chronic suburban unemployment levels, health damaging air quality, increasingly serious traffic congestion and skills shortages are blithely ignored by Mr Willcocks:

  • a November Commons Library Research Paper lists unemployment by constituency, naming Birmingham Ladywood, Perry Barr and Hodge Hill as unemployment blackspots (11-20% and falling at a lower rate);
  • in May, Birmingham was named by the World Health Organisation for breaching safety guidelines for air pollution – see data accessed via this link;
  • a few days ago, the council’s transport and economy scrutiny committee raised concerns that the already over-burdened road network could grind to a halt, exacerbated by forthcoming projects like Paradise, Curzon Street HS2 station and Arena Central;
  • in addition to the shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills , an OECD report ranked England 22nd out of 24 western countries in terms of literacy and 21st for numeracy – achieving skills in the basics are no better than that of a 10-year-old; The Mail reported in 2013 that 16% of the city’s children failed to reach the target in primary school reading tests last year.
Digbeth’s Walker Building

Digbeth’s Walker Building

On Monday, The Information Daily – in an attractively and effectively re-used Birmingham building – presented an article by Professor David Bailey (@dgbailey), taking Birmingham Council to task over city development priorities.

His account of the economic development failure of Birmingham city council over the last 30 years includes:

  • the Council’s spiralling debt problem;
  • the city centre library ‘vanity project’ – a financial noose round the city’s neck – now unable to maintain staff numbers and opening hours;
  • 42% of the much-vaunted employment at the ICC and 71% at the NIA: low paid, insecure cleaning, catering and security jobs;
  • in all – public resources diverted from critical front line services and the needs of the wider population of Birmingham.

He notes that the Kerslake report – ‘the latest manifestation’ – comments on BCC pouring cash into city centre projects while residents in poor out of town neighbourhoods are left without jobs or skills.

Bailey concludes: “As Kerslake himself notes, ‘regeneration must take place beyond the physical transformation of the city centre… the council needs to engage across the whole city, including the outer areas’ . . . It’s time for a change”.

The Friends of the Library grieve not only for the loss of a great and memorable building but for the cultural reputation of the city of Birmingham. 

death notice escalator


We are sorry to announce the premature death of Birmingham Central Library at the early age of 41.

Created by John Madin and his colleagues, it began life as Europe’s finest municipal library in 1974 when it was opened by Harold Wilson, Leader of the Opposition, who went on to become Prime Minister for the second term later that year.

Despite growing support here and around the world, the Central Library lost the battle to survive in the face of wilful neglect by Birmingham City Council, the unbending aspirations of Argent PLC and its opponents who shared Prince Charles’ visceral dislike of its uncompromising appearance.

death notice candleTo celebrate its short life a Wake will be held in Chamberlain Square starting at 11 am on Saturday 31st January 2015. Warm clothes, a candle, food and drink are advisable.

death notice exterior broad street

New readers unfamiliar with the building may wish to read Andy Foster’s 2009 account in Building, a leading industry publication.


Comments on the words of the chair of Birmingham’s civic society, Freddie Gick – former research scientist and international management consultant – quoted by Graeme Brown in the Post:

“This monumental, brutalist incinerator has no place in the centre of our city, flanked by the glorious 19th century architecture and sculpture of our other civic buildings.

Michael Bruce: “the Civic Society slams the library as an architectural ‘import’ when it was designed by Birmingham’s most impressive and courageous architect, while the civic buildings they fawn over like the Town Hall and City Hall are lazy pastiches of Greek and French architecture respectively and have zero originality or merit . . .

Google images of the two libraries

Mr Gick: “Visitors to the city walking through Victoria Square and into Chamberlain Square from New Street are confronted with this import from post revolution Russia.

Binfield: “Someone should ask Freddie Gick what is ‘Russian’ about the library? The architect was a Brummy and the building is distinctly Brummy . . .

Richard: What is proposed to replace it looks like something from the Identikit box of city centre planning. Removing the awful shops from underneath the library and some redevelopment at ground level would have enabled this important piece of Birmingham’s history to have been retained.

I Roth: With all the buildings around demolished the library will look fantastic. It is surrounded by rubbish so one cannot see it is a great design.

Michael Bruce: As the city council planners wipe away the city’s bold post war heritage, they replace it with bland dross that no one will be campaigning to save in 30 years time when that gets pulled down.

Speaking truth to power . . .