There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that the new Library of Birmingham has been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize.
I was far from sure about the architectural merits of the Library as it was emerging. The filigree work I thought excessive, as if the place was covered in cobwebs before it had even opened. And the argument that this was a homage to Birmingham’s history of wrought iron was not convincing, since Birmingham never really had a tradition in wrought iron.
But time has proved me wrong. At night the place looks magical, and the internal space is marvellous. And if the exterior still carries accusations of brashness, well that certainly is in perfect keeping with Birmingham’s history.
And what was truly endearing was to hear hard-nosed, battle-hardened, Brummies taking visitors into the building and declaring that they were proud of it. Time was when they took their guests to Stratford or Warwick for the day.
The bad news is that LoB is up against the Shard for the RIBA prize.
Now this might sound like Shard-enfreude...but is the Shard a new building? People have been telling me that they have been climbing it for ages.
Begun in 2009, the Shard was inaugurated over two years ago. Technically, this requires some bending of dates and deadlines to make it applicable as a 2014 building of the year.
Indeed, since most of the Shard is still unoccupied, perhaps it’s an early front-runner for the Stirling Prize of 2016.
Secondly, I’m not entirely convinced of the Shard’s originality. It reminds me strongly of a 1970s building in downtown San Francisco, known as the Transamerica Pyramid, albeit the Transamerica Corporation subsequently decamped elsewhere. The chief difference between the two is the ratio of concrete to glass.
All the same, at a cost of more than double that of LoB, it’s difficult to see past the Shard as this year’s winner. Indeed, it’s hard to see past it in any sense of the word.
But if, against all odds, the Library of Birmingham emerges triumphant, can I suggest that the prize money goes into the book fund.
* Dr Chris Upton is getting a stiff neck at Newman University Birmingham