Birmingham Central Library

John Madin, Birmingham, 1974


Subscribe now to instantly view this image

Subscribe to the Architects’ Journal (AJ) for instant access to the AJ Buildings Library, an online database of nearly 2,000 exemplar buildings in photographs, plans, elevations and details.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

The inverted Ziggurat form 

    Download Original

  • The inverted Ziggurat form    
  • Library from the podium of the decaying town hall    
  • The new library on the right with the old library on the left. The old library has since been demolished    
  • The new central library represented a visual relief in the sterile wasteland of super-roads and filing cabinet    
  • One of the completed pools to the north of the library    
  • The library from the west    
  • Looking back down the main escalator to the reception area at level 0    
  • The glazed wall to the left allows natural light to the lending library and the librarians    
  • The architects have attempted to create the sensation of flowing space within the envelope of the building    
  • The main circulation focus (at level 0), rapid reference and commercial information right    
  • lending library issue desk with the lending library behind    
  • Escalators in the reference library. The atmosphere changes markedly here    
  • Balconies and voids    
  • Balconies and voids    
  • Local studies department with cast iron staircase from old library. The sloping ceiling to level 7 seen through the void is echoed in the staff lounge    
  • The staff lounge on level 7    
  • Simple oak furniture integrates well with the geometry of the structure    
  • Ducting integrated visually with columns echoing the cruciform column plan on the lower level    
  • Looking south across the central courtyard    
  • Ground level view of concourse. The city information office is housed on the concourse to the left of the cantilevered stairs    
  • View towards the front entrance from the central courtyard    
  • Site plan    
  • Lower ground floor plan    
  • Upper ground floor plan    
  • Concourse floor plan    
  • First floor plan    
  • Second floor plan    
  • Third floor plan    
  • Fourth floor plan    
  • Fifth floor plan    
  • Sixth floor plan    
  • Seventh floor plan    
  • Section aa    

The largest civic library in Europe, built for Britain's second city

The concrete structure is built around a central atrium that provides access to each level from the ground level through to the seventh floor. A concourse level extends above a busy ring road and Centenary Square, while its inverted ziggurat form is widely recognisable.

The library space is generally split into three prime functions, reference, lending and administration. Over thirty miles of book shelving cover the levels.


  • Begun: Mar 1969
  • Completed: 1974
  • Floor area: 224,918m2
  • Sectors: Arts and culture, Civic
  • Total cost: £2.4M
  • Tender date: Aug 1968
  • Procurement: City of Birmingham (Measure and Value) (Fluctuations)
  • Address: Birmingham Central Library, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3HQ, United Kingdom

Professional Team