I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Concrete Proof

James Moran
The News Where You Are, by Catherine O’Flynn, Viking, 311 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-0670918553 One of England’s most distinctive and iconic modernist buildings is the Birmingham Central Library, the largest local civic library in Europe. Over a million books are housed there, on thirty-two miles of shelving, and the facility attracts more than five thousand visitors a day, drawing in a wide and disparate array of people from across the city: teenagers using revision as a pretext for flirting, pasty-faced academics plodding through archives, gaping toddlers learning to read and queasy men attending health-screening clinics. Before Birmingham opened, no other European library had been designed as a complete cultural centre in this way, integrating a children’s zone, lecture hall, exhibition space and manuscripts department, all linked together with areas for music and theatre. Just as the building’s designer intended, the Central Library also forms a distinctive part of the Birmingham skyline. The main section is a huge inverted ziggurat, and looks something like a massive pile of ever larger books reaching into the sky. This ziggurat sits astride a series of tall piers, allowing the public to wander beneath, and was intended to protect attentive readers from the bustle of the city below. A second part of the building nestles into the ziggurat, forming a smaller, curved wing that was originally designed for short visits and library lending. The presence of this second section means that the building avoids overwhelming its nineteenth century neighbours, and the overall effect is to provide a set of neat visual reminders of other British cultural buildings of the era, particularly the concrete cubes of the Royal National Theatre and the ziggurat of the Barbican. As well as being distinctive and very well patronised, the Central Library tells a story of the success of the city’s labourers and designers. Unusually for Britain, the design company awarded the contract was based in the region, with a local man taking the role of chief architect. Built in 1974, it was put up by Robert McAlpine, who relied on many of those “fusiliers” who had come to Birmingham from Ireland and who played such a key role in constructing the culture and identity of the modern city. And yet, despite all of these reasons to applaud, the Central Library will be entirely ripped out by 2013 ‑ a move that suggests the extraction of a massive, and perfectly…



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