New use for Birmingham’s Central Library

Alan Clawley with the background story of Birmingham’s Central Library building, proposals for its retention and details of a new petition to save it.

Chamberlain Square, Birmingham

Chamberlain Square, Birmingham

It’s often occurred to me in ten years of challenging the City Council’s decision that the Central Library was only good for demolition that, if the building were a person, it would have sued all those who made up so many stories to justify its destruction.

It began with the claim that the building was ‘crumbling’ and suffering from ‘concrete cancer’. When that was proved false the building was charged with being a ‘blockage’ to pedestrian movement and with spoiling views of the Council House.

To nail this latest charge the Friends of the Central Library (FCL) held a symposium on 17 May entitled ‘Alternatives to Demolition’.

Four outstanding architectural and planning postgraduate studies were presented that showed convincingly how the building could be conserved and adapted to new uses.

To demonstrate how the building could easily be incorporated in the redevelopment plans of Paradise Circus Joe Holyoak and Rob Turner presented their Alternative Master Plan. The images show that, once the clutter of Paradise Forum has been removed, pedestrians are free to flow through the concourse under the library and the Council House Clock can be fully seen again.

Gary Taylor (Altitude), Richard Groves (Argent) and their architect Glenn Howells attended the meeting and publicly praised FCL on its ‘grown-up’ campaign..

Following the event, FCL concluded that the only remaining charge laid on the building was that it was not suitable for any other use. Its critics said that the ceilings were too low for an art gallery and there wasn’t enough daylight for modern commercial offices. It was, they said, too inflexible.

With the meagre resources at its disposal, FCL can only put forward a range of intriguing ideas for alternative uses. It was felt to be the duty of the City Council to explore in detail how it could be used and marketed. Astonishingly this is a piece of work that has never been done as part of the decision-making process.

Hence the e-petition entitled NEW USE FOR THE LIBRARY which is now on the Council website and which we invite anyone to sign.

The direct link to the site is.

Also, as part of Love Architecture Festival I will be leading a free 2-hour walking tour of John Madin’s architectural work in the City Centre this Saturday.

It will include inside tours of the Central Library and the Conservatoire, a building which is also scheduled for demolition under the current redevelopment proposals. Meet at 2 pm at the ‘Love Architecture; Birmingham’ shop in the Pallasades (near Starbucks).