Library of Birmingham

Client:    Birmingham City Council
Location:   Birmingham
Services:    Project and cost management
Sector:     Sport, Leisure & Culture 
Project Value:    £188.8m
Completion date:   2013

The £188.8m Library of Birmingham was opened in Autumn 2013 by Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old education activist and campaigner for the rights of women and girls around the globe

Located in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the Library is expected to attract over three million visitors a year, with many more visiting online, and will hold a four month Discovery Season of events, displays and activities to mark its opening.

The previous building - Birmingham Central Library - opened in 1973 and is the busiest public library in Britain, attracting more than 1.5 million visitors per year.

Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo with project and cost management and M&E services by Capita, the Library will transform the city’s library services and become a major cultural destination, housing Birmingham’s world-class collections of archives, photography and rare books as well as a million printed volumes, the largest number held by any public library in the UK. Of these, over 400,000 books will be available on the Library’s public floors. With outstanding resources and access to expert help, the Library will be a centre of excellence for literacy, research, study, skills development, health information, creative expression and entrepreneurship. 

At 31,000 sq metres it is around 20% larger than the old Central Library building and is the largest public library in Europe.

The ten-level Library shares a spacious entrance and foyer as well as a flexible studio theatre seating 300 people with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Sited in Centenary Square it will, along with The REP and Symphony Hall, form a new cultural heart for the city. The Library of Birmingham is a flagship project of Birmingham City Council’s 20-year Big City Plan, focusing on the regeneration of the city and the most far-reaching city centre development project ever undertaken in the UK.

The Library is physically connected to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, sharing a spacious entrance, foyer and flexible studio theatre seating 300 people. An outdoor Amphitheatre, surrounded by wild flower planting, in Centenary Square will provide a performance space for music, drama, poetry reading and storytelling. There are two outdoor garden terraces, children’s spaces and a panoramic viewing gallery at the summit, where visitors will be able to enjoy stunning views from one of the highest points in the city.

Other features include:

The Golden Box
A ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage occupies levels five and six of the building and contains the city’s internationally important archive, heritage and photographic collections.  Whilst the Library’s precious collections are kept safe in this protective environment, thanks to an ongoing programme of digitisation they are being opened up to the public online and through digital innovations projects using new technology.

A new gallery will enable select parts of the collection to go on display through a programme of exhibitions. The Library contains one of the world’s largest Shakespeare collections, the Parker Collection of Children’s Books and Games, the Early and Fine Printing Collection and the Boulton and Watt archive.

Shakespeare Memorial Room
Above the golden box, visitors can explore the Shakespeare Memorial Room, an original feature from the city’s Victorian library. The Victorian room with its wooden panelling and glass cabinets has been moved in its entirety and painstakingly restored. Although the Library’s Shakespeare collection outgrew the room in the early 20th century, the collection is still housed in the Library.

Capita was originally appointed to manage the preparation of the complex business case for the project in September 2006, before being selected as project and cost managers in December 2007. Since then the team has led an international design team competition that resulted in Mecanoo’s appointment, and an OJEU selection of the delivery contractor for which Carillion was selected as successful bidder earlier this year.

Library of Birmingham facts and figures:

  • The Library is expected to welcome an estimated 3.5 million visitors through its doors each year, equivalent to 10,000 per day, with millions more accessing its services online.
  • The total capital cost for the project is £188.8m, a reduction of £4.2m on the original forecasted figure of £193m. 
  • The development will be 35,000m2 in size of which 4,000m2 will be new back—of- house facilities at The REP

The construction of the Library of Birmingham has used:

  • 45,000m2 of walls to paint – the equivalent of more than six football pitches.
  • 21,000m3 of concrete in the frame – enough to fill more than eight Olympic sized swimming pools.
  • 3,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement in the frame – the equivalent weight of around 35,750 average UK men.
  • 30,000m3 of material to be dug out of the basement – enough to fill 60,000 bath tubs.
  • 29,000m2 of ceilings
  • 14,000m2 of screed
  • 13,000m2 of external walls
  • 5,000m2 of internal glazing
  • 15,000m2 of internal blockwork
  • 7,000m2 of internal "stud" partitions
  • A core workforce of 800 people building the project
  • An estimated 1.6 million person hours in the construction of the project construct the project
  • 900,000 cups of tea and 100,000 breakfasts served in the canteen!