A superb temporary vista has opened up after the demolition of Birmingham Central Library, and this is a plea to observe it whilst you have the chance.
The Birmingham Central Library has now gone. Madin’s Brutalist vision has now been erased from physical space, rubbed off Birmingham’s blackboard permanently. Existing only in the memories of those who have preserved its memory. Construction of its replacement, a mixed use development namely One and Two Chamberlain Square is due to come soon, under the name of Paradise.
Artists impressions show two modern glass fronted edifice replacing the old fashioned concrete. A very 2016 vision standing dominant in the 1960s futurist space. Coffee hubs and hot desking for the workers, jammed into the Wi-Fi connectivity, hair-dryed and hair-gelled, creating hotspots and looking sharp.
Whilst slightly apprehensive about the new barging the old out of the way, I made my way over to the spot with the Central Library once stood, walking with my back to the Symphony Hall/ICC and the Library of Birmingham. The old library had been erased in a fashion of being split down the middle and slowly pulled apart like a pair of concrete curtains. This now revealed a gorgeous sight from Centenary Square to Chamberlain Square that the Central Library once obscured.
Here, you see glorious old Birmingham in all its glory, with no barrier. Looking from Chamberlain Square, you can see clearly the majestic sweep of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, designed in the Victorian Baroque style by Yeoville Thomason in 1885.
This, I thought, would give visitors to the city, and proud Brummies showing off their city’s sights a glorious walk depicting Birmingham as a destination for arts and culture, from the Symphony Hall/ICC, flanked by the award-winning Library of Birmingham. Then that view would hit you, without the need to pass through any arcade or coffee shop. A true public realm, without need for expenditure, a view that everyone could share, creating breathing space and pride in the second city. As a giant you would slowly see the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery emerge from below, and then you would tower above it, walking on to your destination.
You would then take pride in the fabulous Victorian Gothic architecture of the Birmingham School of Art buildings on Margaret Street, and the Grade 1 listed Town Hall on your right. Notorious and infamous sculpture in Dhruva Mistry’s The River and Anthony Gormley’s Iron Man, overseen by another Yeoville Thomason Classical design in the superb Council House building and “Big Brum” and furthermore the delights of Colmore Row.
At this point, I would like to recommend that this new vista, emerging after the clearing of old space should be used to create a fourth public realm. For the while, before the proposed One and Two Chamberlain Square are constructed and again block off this delightful view I would like to implore Birmingham’s inhabitants to take this walk and look at the classic designs of Old Birmingham, before Paradise is built. Much as with Birmingham Central Library didn’t feature on any postcards or tourist information, I don’t believe One and Two Chamberlain Square will either, however, what Birmingham currently has is breath-taking in the extreme, and needs to be celebrated and hopefully preserved.