The Council has so far focused most of its attention on the new library whilst giving very little attention to the option of retaining, renovating and extending the existing library building.

Fine pictures of the library’s interior can be seen on VIEW’s website, but cannot be shown here without paying a rather substantial fee.

The public have only been asked to react to the artists’ impressions and the high-sounding rhetoric about proposed world-class facilities and “iconic” buildings. We have not been asked with like enthusiasm, whether the existing Library should be retained and improved where it has stood for the last 30 years.

We believe that the Council has therefore failed in its duty to consider all the options with equal care. We believe that the decision to demolish the existing building was taken in 2001 or thereabouts and has dictated all subsequent actions.

The council neglected its building

As a consequence the existing building with its electrical and mechanical plant has been badly neglected. No serious proposals for cleaning and repairing the concrete cladding have been considered. The intended courtyard fountains and pools have been abandoned. The possibility of extending the building as was originally intended has not been investigated in detail.

However, the retired engineer from Arup who designed the structure of the building spoke from the floor about its strength and durability. He confirmed that the Library has no structural problems, contrary to what the Chief Executive’s report now says. 

It could be redesigned and extended

John Madin, the architect explained to Paul Dale of the Birmingham Post:

“The ground floor can be extended if required, as originally planned, and can even be further extended when the fast food shops are removed from the entrance and courtyard. The Central Library is not inflexible. It is designed with an open flexible plan on every floor with no structural walls to inhibit the free and easy alteration of its layout. It was particularly designed to meet any future requirements with regard to technical developments over the 21st century and beyond.”

Several councillors agreed – but no vote was taken

At a meeting of the  council scrutiny committee [2.11.07] several councillors pointed out:

  • improving and extending the Central Library would provide 5,000 sq ms more space
  • the estimated £147 million cost of this would be almost £50 million cheaper than the proposed Centenary Square library.

Councillor Martin Mullaney (Moseley & King’s Heath) said: “To Joe Public, extending the existing library is a far better option. You would have a bigger library at a cheaper cost and you wouldn’t have to shoehorn it into a car park next to the Repertory Theatre.”

In the Group’s second submission to Culture Secretary Margaret Hodge in 2008, it advocated  regeneration: undoing the unfortunate changes that it made to the Central Library and its surroundings over the past 10 years, changes that have seriously undermined the architect’s intentions and destroyed the Council’s original plan for a civic and cultural centre. They would welcome the removal of the fast food outlets that occupy Paradise Forum and the restoration of that space to its original civic purpose.

Brian Gambles, Birmingham’s head of libraries, told Lucinda Lambton, writer, photographer  and  broadcaster on architectural subjects that the building had never been completed to Madin’s design standard and that it should have been clad in Portland Stone – not left as bare concrete and now pieces were falling off as the material crumbled and had to be protected by netting. Lucinda suggested that if they now clad it in Portland Stone this would be cheaper than a completely new building.

Lucinda asked: “Why not complete the original plan now – at the expense of the McDonalds and similar unplanned outlets that now clutter the total area? I can see the fountains and gardens enhancing and projecting this great symbol of Birmingham and its era.” The Stirrer [14.10.08].