Cake, critics and Rizzle Kicks: The Library of Birmingham gets set for grand opening

By Culture24 Reporter | 29 August 2013

It has been described by its architect, Francine Houben, as a “people’s palace”. And the Library of Birmingham, the £188.8 million epicentre of inspiration in the second city, has proved popular with the critics during a week of previews with a celebratory air ahead of its opening on Tuesday.

A photo of a modern library
© Christian Richters
Cast in a tower of interlocking circles, the building has been pronounced a “modern marvel” by the Express and Star and a “modern behemoth” encasing the past by the Guardian.

The Telegraph reflected Houben’s desire to connect young people with literature, praising the debate surrounding a design considered loud by some, while The Independent called it a “temple of learning”, voicing director Brian Gambles’ wish to address a “skills deficit around learning” in Birmingham.

A photo of people outside a library eating
Harvesting Stories will unite Brummies with their favourite foods© Kaye Winwood
Its ten levels all offer unparalleled views of the city, connected to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre – a 300-seat studio theatre which will share a foyer and entrance with the library.

Two levels are devoted to “precious” collections, ranging from the Parker Collection of Children’s Books and Games to one of the world’s largest Shakespeare collections, kept in a golden box beneath the Shakespeare Memorial Room from Birmingham’s immortalised Victorian library. A BFI mediatheque and a national photography collection also feature.

Writing in de zeen magazine, Houben said her dream had been a building to bring “coherence to the urban network of Birmingham.”

“We imagine visitors moving from one floor to the next through interconnected and overlapping rotunda spaces that serve as the main vertical circulation route,” she envisaged, hoping that the spaces would be “inviting”, “welcoming” and “inspiring” for all ages and backgrounds.

“On the lower levels the route continues below ground nearly to the train tunnel that passes in front of the building, and resurfaces in Centenary Square.

“At this point this interior route weaves itself with the 'Red Line' route, revealing a piece of the inner library world to the public.”

An image of a black and white illustration of an elaborate bird standing on two feet
Laura Kate Chapman has made a series of illustrations around the Children's Library, inspired by the Parker Collection of Children's Book and Games© Laura-Kate Chapman
The opening exhibition, Self Portrait Birmingham, will galvanise the huge Digital Gallery to reveal more than 1,000 images of Brummies taken in a project brimming with characters under the vision of Brian Homer.

Visitors will be invited to submit their own to a big screen in the entrance foyer as part of the Discovery Season, recreating Homer’s original idea, the Handsworth Self Portrait project, which he embarked upon with fellow photographers Derek Bishton and John Reardon during the 1970s.

“The freedom to take their own picture means that the resulting images have an authenticity and engagement which really shows each person’s personality,” he says, calling on residents to create a “comprehensive” and “creative” snapshot of their city.

“There is a huge difference between these self-portraits and to portraits where the photographer remains in control throughout.”

Homer’s is part of an absorbing Discovery Season taking place at the library between now and the end of the year, curated by Capsule and overseen by Arts Council England.

Their plans make full use of the library’s quirks and corners. The Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, will appear, with creative residencies taking on sci-fi and sonic themes, not to mention brass bands filling the space in harmonious fashion.

A constant highlight will be the Discovery Trail, weaving around the levels with contemporary illustrations, large-scale soft-play, sound and paper sculptures, vegetable dioramas – based on the growing beds of the third floor terrace garden – and more.

A photo of a cake
Staff members are said to have made short work of Claire Jackson's saccharine recreation of the delicious new building
Writing on Created in Birmingham, Kerry Leslie picked out the terrace’s flowers and bees, the decorations of the children’s library and the colour block book rotunda as the most eyecatching elements of her visit.

Staff enjoyed a sugary hit with a cake version of their new home, having won succinct praise from chart-toppers Rizzle Kicks.

Following a performance on the roof of the building last month, singer Jordan Stephens declared the look of the library “boss.”

More pictures:

A photo of the inside of a huge multi-storey library
A Book Rotunda spirals around the building© Christian Richters
A photo of the outside of a huge library and neighbouring theatre at night
An outdoor ampitheatre takes the library line-up outside© Christian Richters
A photo of a floor of a library with books spiralling the shelves
A BFI Mediatheque provides free access to the National Film Archive© Christian Richters
A photo of a rooftop terrace above a city
Plants are already blooming on the terraces© Christian Richters
A photo of a man playing a tuba outside a library
A Discover New Music season will take place this autumn© Library of Birmingham
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Article is Commendable !!Library is a Beauty !!
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