Francine Houben
Interview: after completing Europe's largest public library in Birmingham, architect Francine Houben of Dutch studio Mecanoo spoke to Dezeen about the role of the library in the digital age and claims libraries are as central to society as cathedrals once were.
"Libraries are the most important public buildings, like cathedrals were many years ago," she said, explaining how Mecanoo designed the Birmingham building as a "people's palace". She added: "We wanted it to be very inviting and welcoming, not just about books. It's not just for the rich or the intellectuals, it's for everybody."
The building comprises a stack of four rectangular volumes that include a sunken amphitheatre, rooftop gardens and a shimmering facade clad with interlocking metal rings. Part of the library extends beneath a public square, while reading rooms branch out from a staggered rotunda.
"I didn't want to make a brick building, because we needed a lot of light, but I didn't want to make a glass building either," said the architect. "It's so beautiful to sit here because of the reflections and the shadows, and the changing of the weather. It's different from December to June."
Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo
Library of Birmingham front elevation
Houben dismisses the suggestion that digital technologies will see the end of libraries, explaining that the university library completed by the firm in Delft is still the most popular place in the city.
"We were always prepared that there would be less books in the future," she said. "The research machines will always be here, but to me the space is much more important."