This evening I went to hear about the plans for the new Library for Birmingham and the changes to the Rep theatre. Having spent the afternoon in the Humanities reference section at the library, which was stuffy, sunlight-free and full of people who see it as a place to have a natter and drink coffee, any changes to the library will be welcome (although the staff are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, and their reference collection is generally excellent). I hadn’t, before this evening, heard much about the changes to the theatre, so was interested to hear that when the library is built next to the Rep (in the car park between the Rep and Baskerville House) they will be sharing some of the space, including a third theatre (which the Rep have been wanting for some time) and a proposed ice cream parlour!
It’s been designed by Dutch company Mecanoo, which has designed libraries and theatres before (which is encouraging!) The details of the design are still being finalised, although the overall layout has been completed, and plans include going green – generating their own electricity and hot and cold water on site. In addition, the Rep plans a new look for the bar, a clean-up of the facade, and more ladies’ loos (hurrah).
Both the library and the theatre have “huge aspirations” but are limited by space and finances. The project has been valued at £193m, which is underwritten by the Council, so it will be interesting to see, given that the library is a Council concern and the Rep is not, if this causes any conflict once the new buildings are completed. Still, although these might be tight times financially, it is encouraging to see the Council putting a premium on arts and culture in the city. The new development can only be a good thing for Birmingham, I think.
The Rep will close in January 2011, and intends to put on productions in other spaces around the city. They clearly intend to think creatively about this, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with. The new Library for Birmingham and the new-look Rep will re-open in 2013. There is more information, and pictures, at the Library of Birmingham website.