Library #1

The demolition of the old library in Birmingham. March 2016.

This area is called Paradise Circus. It used to be one of my favourite spots in Birmingham: a multi-leveled warren of ammonia scented concrete. Now Birmingham City Council is proudly redeveloping Paradise.

The demolition of the old library in Birmingham. March 2016.

When I came here for the first time, I was flummoxed by this city’s topography. Walkways cross each other, tunnels run under offices, canals bisect motorways. Birmingham forces your brain to imagine space on a vertical axis. In other cities, the map I hold in my head is flat and schematic but Birmingham demands more complexity, more commitment. Learning to navigate this city centre has necessitated building a plan in three dimensions, in paying attention to the neglected staircase and cultivating a spotter’s delight in the overlooked crannies.

The demolition of the library is the end of this part of Birmingham for me. But it’s also the end of the city as vertical public space. Modernist Birmingham, this unnerving complex of oddly arranged intersections, was built out of the ruins of pre-war tenements and post-war bomb damage. Plans for the expansion of the city in the 1910s and 1920s already envisioned the sweeping carriageways that split the city and divide pedestrians from motor vehicles. With a crest emblazoned with the word ‘Forward’, Birmingham has always looked to the future. The demolished library is a hoped-for paradise returning to ruin.

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