14 September 2011, Councillor Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, laid the last piece of concrete on the highest point of the new Library of Birmingham at the official Topping Out ceremony. This is a significant marker in the construction of the new £188.8 million building, designed by Mecanoo architects, and due to open in 2013.
The Topping Out took place at the rotunda on the summit of the building, which will eventually house the Shakespeare Memorial Room, originally a feature in the Victorian Library and currently in Birmingham Central Library. The Shakespeare Memorial Room will be located alongside a viewing gallery giving panoramic views across the city. The Topping Out was also celebrated with the first performances in the Library’s outdoor amphitheatre in Centenary Square, with an appearance by a cappella quintet Black Voices and by members of the company from the Repertory Theatre, who performed extracts from Shakespeare and from their current production Tom Stoppard’s ‘Travesties’.
The Library of Birmingham will comprise of 10 levels, with nine above ground and a lower ground floor. It is being constructed using 21,000m³ of concrete in the frame, enough to fill more than eight Olympic sized swimming pools. The frame is reinforced by 3,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement, the equivalent weight of around 35,750 average UK men. 30,000m³ of material, enough to fill 60,000 bath tubs, had to be dug out of the basement. The building will feature a spacious entrance and foyer with mezzanine, the gateway to both the Library and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, to which the new Library will be physically connected. There will also be a new flexible studio theatre, a lower ground level with indoor terraces, four further public levels and two outdoor elevated garden terraces. A ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage will occupy two levels of the building, within which the city’s internationally significant collection of archives, photography and rare books will be stored. A new state-of-the-art exhibition space will open up public access to the collections for the first time. The exterior of the building, from the first to the eighth floor will be wrapped with an intricate metal façade, echoing the tunnels, canals and viaducts which fuelled Birmingham’s industrial growth. Besides the Shakespeare Memorial Room and the new shared studio theatre with neighbouring Repertory Theatre, Birmingham’s 35,000m² new library will comprise a study centre, music library, community health centre, multimedia, archives, offices, exhibition halls and cafes. Text provided by Mecanoo architecten.