Birmingham reimagines the library

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Last week, I visited Birmingham again after a gap of some five years or so. The reason? To see the new Library of Birmingham. It’s a spectacular building, designed by internationally renowned architects Mecanoo. But that’s by the by, because the genius of this building lies in its conception, as a vital cultural, social and intellectual resource for the city and the UK. It holds archives of global significance, including one of the world’s great Shakesperean editons. The building has been cleverly designed to link the Birmingham Repertory Theatre with the libary, providing a space so well integrated internally, that the visitor is almost unaware of moving between the two

The trip was my wife’s idea. She was born and raised in Birmingham, trained at Aston University and worked in its public libraries before moving away and working in school and public libraries across the country. It was emotional trip for her to see the new building, more evidence of Birmingham’s powers of reinvention ingenuity and renewal.


Above: 1000 self-portraits of Birmingham people, conceived by photographer Brian Homer

The moment you enter the building, you begin to experience the library’s most important gift to the city – the way it appears to redefine the idea of a library. Birmingham now has a wonderful information resource – centred around the book, but including all forms of old and new media – that represents reinvention, renewal and confidence in its past, present and future.

What’s all this got to do with graphic design and creativity? Well, everything. I tell (or bore) my students all the time about the imprtance of research and context and their importance in ideas generation. This is the interesting bit, where good ideas come from. If designers aren’t looking at interesting things, thinking interesting thoughts and experimenting, the work they are likely to produce will be naturally limited to their own experiences, which between the ages of 18 and 21 can sometims result in dull and uninformed output.



Above: Discovery Trail: paper typewriter


Above: The ‘Skylift’Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download


Above: the foyer, Birmingham Repertory Theatre: part of the Library complex

As for Birmingham, the magic they have performed is nothing less than the reinvention of the notion of what a libraries are, of what and who they’re for. The new Library of Birmingham is no longer just a library, it’s a beautiful arts venue, cultural hot spot, multimedia information centre and social hub rolled into one. Well done Birmingham!



Above: celebrating technical, support staff, writers and performers at ‘The Rep’