Seven of Europe's best known architectural practices are in the running to build Birmingham's new £193 million library.
A shortlist released by the city council yesterday features acclaimed award winners including Lord Foster, whose firm designed the Gherkin tower in the City of London and Beijing Airport, and Wilkinson Eyre, winners of the Stirling Prize for the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
Council leader Mike Whitby said the scale of interest in masterminding the Centenary Square project - an amalgamation of the library with the Repertory theatre - coming on top of a clamour to design the New Street Station refurbishment meant that Birmingham was now a city of choice for architects wishing to enhance or make their reputation.
Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) added: "Seven internationally renowned architectural practices have been short-listed from more than 100 worldwide. Their reputations for designing high-profile, iconic landmark buildings are what resulted in their selection."
Also on the list are:
* Foreign Office Architects - projects include the Yokohama Port Terminal and the forthcoming BBC Music Centre.
* Hopkins Architects - designed MPs' offices Portcullis House.
* Mecanoo - responsible for National Performing Arts Centre, Taiwan.
* OMA - designed the Seoul National University Museum of Art;
* Schmidt Hammer Lassen - projects include the National Library of China.
The short-listed practices will be invited to say how they would interpret a strategic design brief for the library.
Interviews will be held with the council in June and the winner is likely to be announced in August.
Detailed design work will only take place after an appointment has been made and following consultation with library users. Asked what he thought the completed building might look like, Coun Whitby said: "Ideally, I would like something that makes a statement and encourages you to go in."
He gave the example of the ICC, which he believed would never date.
"I know that buildings grow on people if they are successfully designed. You could have a building that is loved because it functions so well," Coun Whitby added.
He spoke of an ambition to have 10 of the world's best architects working on projects in Birmingham.
Well-known names already involved in the city include Eric Khune, who is behind the V Building at Arena Central, Ken Shuttleworth, designer of the Cube at the Mailbox and Glen Howells, who is responsible for renovating the Rotunda. The result of a design competition for the New Street Station refurbishment will be announced next month.
Fears that the site for the library, between Baskerville House and the Rep, will be too small were dismissed by Coun Whitby. "This will be 25 per cent larger than our current library and 10 per cent larger than any public library in Europe," he stressed.
Stuart Rogers, executive director at the Rep, said Brummies were too "self-deprecating" to be excited about the project.
"This is a fantastic testament to the scale of ambition in Birmingham today," he added. "We don't shout about what we are achieving as much as other cities in the UK do.
"I know from talking to colleagues in the arts, they are astonished that the city has committed to a £193 million scheme of this scale when all over the country cultural facilities are being shut or kept at a standstill."
Brian Gambles, assistant director of culture at the council, will head the team responsible for deciding who gets the library contract.
"I'll be looking for the design team that is hungriest and really wants to do the job," he said.