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Booking-up: Birmingham library by Mecanoo.

Photos: Mecanoo

Europe's largest public library opened yesterday in Birmingham, UK. The Library of Birmingham was designed my Mecanoo. They have delivered a spectacular building at what could hardly come at a more important time. British Government austerity measures are forcing the closure of many libraries up and down the country, whilst the onslaught of online media is raising fundamental questions about the relevance of bricks and mortar libraries.

The library brings cohesion through focus to the largest public square in the city, and in so doing, puts culture at its civic and physical heart. Hats off to the city council for its investment in the public realm and for commissioning such an important building during the austerity period.

Hats off to the architects for seeing through the fog surrounding the relevance of libraries. They have created a dynamic programme, that links into other cultural institutions in the city, reinforcing the role and relevance of each.

The library contains 35,000 m2 of floor area with adult and children's library, a study centre, a music library, a community health centre, multimedia, archives, Shakespeare Memorial Room, offices, exhibition halls, cafés and lounge space. There is also a new 300 seat auditorium shared with the neighbouring Repertory Theatre. And at last there is a new urban plan for Centenary Square.

Christopher C. Hill.

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