The first image of the new £193 million library which will transform Birmingham’s Centenary Square when it opens in 2013 has been revealed to the public.

Dutch architect Francine Houben and her firm Mecanoo have come up with a landmark building to dominate the square and meet the demands of a 21st century library service.

With 31,000 square metres of floor space squeezed between the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Baskerville House the library reaches ten storeys high - topped with balconies and elevated gardens.

And most striking feature of all is the subterranean levels which reach under Centenary Square beneath ground level, breaking out with a sunken circular open air amphitheatre - where musicians can serenade passers by.

It’s glazed elevations are fronted with circle patterned fine metal layer inspired by Birmingham’s industrial and jewellary manufacturing tradition - a far cry from the concrete finish of the brutalist Central Library which it is set to replace.

The grand scheme was today unveiled by Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby, architect Ms Houben and partners from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

As well as a lasting landmark for the Birmingham, Mr Whitby sees it as a major economic boost for the city at a time when construction is slowing and the recession is biting.

He said: “Despite the global economic slowdown, demand for and confidence in Birmingham has never been higher.

“The new library will be an iconic landmark and a testament to the role Birmingham will play in the 21st century as a truly global city.

“The new designs are further evidence of our intention to attract world-class architects to work with the City, and these designs support our ambition to create a building which will bring people together, nurture creativity, allow far greater access to our cultural heritage, and act as a focal hub within the city and the region.”

And with the funding from taxpayers, council borrowing and the eventual sale of council land and only limited private sector sponsorship or investment the building will not fall victim to the credit crunch.

As well as providing exhibition space for many of the city’s hidden historic archives, including Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623, the library will be equipped with the latest digital technology and designed to meet the demands of the 21st Century.

It will share the entrance foyer, cafe, exhibition space and 300 seat auditorium with the neighbouring theatre.

Theatre director Stuart Rogers said: “We are delighted with the highly imaginative way that Mecanoo are planning to link the distinctive and much-loved Birmingham

Repertory Theatre with the new Library of Birmingham. The new facilities will allow both of us to work creatively together and thereby keep Birmingham’s unique cultural offer amongst the greatest in the world.”

Assuming a smooth run through the consultation and planning process construction, to be carried out by Carillion, is expected to begin next year.

The decision to demolish the existing 1974 built Central Library has been met with attempts to get the building listed as a fine example of 20th century brutalist architecture, with some support from English Heritage.

But the Government is currently considering a council request for immunity from listing to ensure it can be demolished and the land sold to generate funds for the new building.

Prince Charles once famously condemned the Central Library, saying it resembled an incinerator more suited to burning books than storing them but supporters say it can be restored and renovated at a fraction of the cost of the new building.

The Council is asking the people of Birmingham, to view the plans and comment on them. A series of public exhibitions, including one at the Central Library begins on April 20 and will run until mid May. Full details are available at

here are currently over 500,000 members of Birmingham’s libraries, with more than 220,000 members actively using their tickets;
More than four million people visit Birmingham Libraries each year;
Almost five million books are issued each year;
500,000 DVDs, CDs and talking books are issued;
Birmingham Central Library has over five million items in its wide and varying archive collections;
The largest book in the Central Library is Birds of America, 1827 - 1838, 99.06cm x 66.04cm unopened, by John James Audubon;
The smallest book in the Central Library is The Bijou Series, a set of miniature books printed about 1850, one inch high;
The oldest book in the Central Library is Catholicon by Joannes Balbus, Printed in Augsberg, Germany by Guntherus Zainer 1469;
The heaviest book in the Central Library is Investigations and Studies in Jade; the Heber R. Bishop Collection, two volumes, 1906. The two volumes weigh 125Ibs;
The oldest book printed in England in Central Library is Cordiale or Four Last Thinges Printed by William Caxton 1479;
The oldest manuscript in the Central Library is Condition of a grant from Leouca, Lady of Elleford (Ellford, Staffs) to the monks at Mirau (Merevale, Warks) of the mill of Elford about 1140 A.D.