Despite the original vision not being fully implemented the library has gained architectural praise as an icon of British Brutalism with its stark use of concrete, bold geometry, inverted ziggurat sculptural form and monumental scale. Its style was seen at the time as a symbol of social progressivism. Based on this, English Heritage applied and failed twice for the building to gain listed status. However, due to strong opposition from Birmingham City Council the building gained immunity from listing until 2016.' (Source which also has a history of the various libraries over the years, a detailed description of the never-fully-executed plan & the presently-under-demolition building).
Of course this is a witchcraft blog, so the point of this is really the spirit of place & how that spirit both affects people & is contributed to by those people's actions.
There are a number of things that leap to the attention in this tale of civic extravagance & wanton waste.
The first is an apparently simple statement that the new Library of Birmingham is actually the *fourth* municipally-owned principle library in Birmingham in a period around 160 years. One of these four was destroyed in a fire, but since then there has been an unending cry of 'we need a new library'. Think the Library of Birmingham is the last gasp? No way. It is a Birmingham thing, the relentless expansion, demolition, rebuilding. The pace has probably slowed down somewhat because there is less money around than there is, so I wouldn't like to put a time scale on this prediction, but this one won't be the last. I feel this one may be less vulnerable to the need for continually-expanding book storage, since major economies have had to be made to build this one & the council is cash-strapped across the board. Rather the Library of Birmingham will be vulnerable to the mistakes that have been made in building it (it's very fancy, but I doubt it's resilient), equipping it (whoever heard of a library where you can't access the stack) & the financial situation of the whole world. Birmingham City Council have a great track record of neglecting landmark buildings to the point where there is no return & maintenance is always an earlt financial casualty.
The second thing that leaps to the eye is that there is a great history of plans that have not been executed. The reality is that the central library site as it has been from 1974 & particularly since the forum was filled in, has not at all been what was planned. The building is additionally not what was planned - the council's cheapening use of concrete has made it an eyesore. Madin's architecture is largely vanishing from the city - it is wildly unfashionable, & his brutalist masterpiece was misunderstood & ill-treated from the start. In places where the original colour of orange nylon carpet remains, what made the council think that purple paint would be a good colour for the walls? Again, the council's lack of maintenance made the building worse - it was tatty, escalators didn't work towards the end, it was dark, tables were graffitied, & so on. Concrete is perhaps the world's highest-maintenance building material. The original atrium was abused by being filled in (admittedly it was a planning mistake). The central library was a grand dream that was never executed properly & then doomed by forty years of municipal ill-treatment. If anyone in the planning department reads this, please don't commission these white elephants that you can't or won't maintain.
The third thing that springs to the eye is how much the central library is loved. Without it, there is one fewer landmark building in the city. There has been a campaign to save it. There have even been attempts to list it. But it's clearly been doomed for some time. The conservationists may not understand that it's a Birmingham thing - we demolish all the best (using that word to mean a unique architectural statement) buildings in the city, replace them, then there is the outcry about their loss. So this is the witch's last prediction for today: it will start as soon as the nondescript development with too many shops that will replace it is up & running, but there will be cries afterwards that it should have been saved.