A weekend getaway with my mum & sister offered the opportunity for us to explore somewhere new. Although my dad is originally from Birmingham and we visited my nan there for many years, we had always gone to her house on the outskirts and know little of the city itself. As with many British cities, Birmingham seems to be evolving through a big regeneration effort, and the clash of old and new was very apparent in our visit.
The Museum and Art Gallery offered up its fascinating slice of history via the Staffordshire Hoard, which is the ‘largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, anywhere in the world’. The intricacy and craftsmanship evident in each tiny fragment was mind-blowing, even more so given that they are currently dated to the 7th or 8th centuries… Particularly impressive were the cloisonné garnets, which had each been hand-cut to fit into tiny patterns and contoured to curved surfaces.
Some pieces had also been recreated using traditional techniques, to give an indication of their original form.
In stark contrast to this glimpse into the ancient past, the new Library in the city centre is a glittering architectural statement that emphasises Birmingham’s vision for its future. It has already established itself firmly as a cultural space that welcomes sightseers alongside its traditional literary seekers. Its function as a library is woven seamlessly with its beauty as a building in its own right and it seems to embody all the things a public space should be – welcoming, inclusive, versatile. The atrium is like an enormous version of the curved library from a beautiful country home, its floor to ceiling bookshelves showcasing the glorious gilded spines of the historical reference section. Somehow, this does not seem out of place in such a modern building.
Although it was a bright, blustery autumn day, I can imagine the upper roof garden in summer, packed with local people reading in the sunshine, or meeting simply to enjoy the view. Not to mention the insects and wildlife that will benefit from the greenery planted there. To me, it is a triumph.