Stirling Prize: Library of Birmingham makes shortlist

Library of Birmingham More than 10,000 people visited the Library of Birmingham on its first day

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The Library of Birmingham has been shortlisted for the annual Royal Institute of British Architects' (Riba) Stirling Prize.

The city's £189m building opened in September, featuring what judges described as a "Harry Potter rotunda" and "Willy Wonka-style glass lift".

They said it was a "landmark" building and a "bold addition to the city".

Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, it is believed to be the largest regional library in Europe.


It's a thoroughly modern building, with a bold façade of intertwining aluminium rings, in stark contrast to the art deco Baskerville House next door.

Enter into the spacious reception, with its austere white walls and computer information points directing visitors across its nine floors, and the initial impression is emphatically futuristic.

But it's also a building of contrasts. As you ascend the space-age escalators to the second floor, you're met with a floor-to-ceiling "book rotunda", packed with weighty, weathered tomes, which is more fairytale than science fiction.

The outdoor viewing terraces and gardens provide another counterpoint to the building's frontage.

While the open-air areas tend to be populated by eager sightseers, inside you'll find plenty of people reading or working in the many study areas.

More than 10,000 people visited the library on the first day alone, while Mecanoo architect Francine Houben described it as a "people's palace".

It joins the likes of The Shard, the London Aquatic Centre and Liverpool's Everyman Theatre on the shortlist for what has become one of the biggest prizes in architecture.

The winner will be announced on 16 October.

Judges described the library as composed of "three stacked boxes adorned with a glittering filigree screen", which its designers said was "inspired by the artisan tradition of this once industrial city".

Alongside the striking, modern touches, it also features the Shakespeare Memorial Room, lined with wooden panels reassembled from the first Birmingham Central Library.

'Distinctive' look

Local writer Yasmin Ali said she was a regular library user and was very fond of the building.

"I love the outside, I think it looks good even next to the older buildings around it," she said.

"In the context of its surroundings, a big square, you need a building that looks distinctive and it works really well.

"The interior is essentially a series of boxes so the exterior decoration is important."

Library of Birmingham The library boasts about one million books and hosts a variety of groups, from Yoga classes to writing workshops

Sara Beadle, programmes director for Writing West Midlands, said the new library was "much nicer" than its 1970s predecessor.

"It's beautiful in certain ways," she said.

"It could be warmer, cosier inside. But the façade is quite sophisticated and sits quite well within the Birmingham skyline."

Roof garden at library of Birmingham The £189m library features a rooftop garden, cafe, study rooms, a multimedia archive and exhibition space

Not everyone, however, is a fan.

David Mitchell, from Walsall, described the building's exterior as "an eyesore".

"It doesn't fit in with the rest of the buildings," he said.

"All those rings must have cost a lot of money but they don't really do anything.

"I like the inside, though."

More on the Stirling Prize
  • Awarded by Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Architects must be Riba members to be in the running, and the building anywhere in the EU
  • Working in partnership with Riba, BBC News will run a series of features on the shortlisted buildings later this year
  • Find out more about the BBC's coverage of the 2013 Stirling Prize
Glass lift at Library of Birmingham The Riba judges praised the building's "Willy Wonka-style glass lift"
Escalators The library, believed to be the largest of its kind in Europe, replaced one designed by Brutalist architect John Madin, which dated back to the 1970s

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