Paradise Circus > Paradise Lost

Commisioned 1964, Construction commenced 1969, Opened 1974, Completed (never, it's Paradise after all)

Schematic drawings for Paradise Circus by John Madin Design Group, 1965  © Birmingham and Five Counties Architectural Association Archive

Schematic drawings for Paradise Circus by John Madin Design Group, 1965

© Birmingham and Five Counties Architectural Association Archive

According to the Design Team Report of 1973, the site at Paradise Circus was the solution to a busy junction in the road pattern, its boundaries formed by the gyratory road of the Inner Ring Road, and beneath, the Queensway Tunnel. The site connects the Birmingham Corporation's Victorian assemblage to the east - the Town Hall (Hansom and Welch, 1834) and the Council House and Art Gallery (Yeoville Thomason, 1874-9, 1884-5) - and to the west the Civic Centre - the Hall of Memory (1924, Cooke) and the Civic Centre (now Baskerville House, 1939, Cecil Howitt) the only built elements of the classical plan for the site, abandoned in the 1960s in favour of a precinct arrangement. The Corporation's infrastructural 'improvements' from 1957gave rise to the island site, and the City Architect JR Sheridan-Shedden's Civic Centre Plan of 1965 designated the civic functions of the scheme, including the Reference and Lending Library, Bus Interchange, School of Music, Athletic Institute (not built), Birmingham Midland Institute (not built), municipal offices, retail and leisure, promoting grade separation and the free movement of citizens across the site.

Hickman, a director at John Madin Design Group and author of the Studio Vista guide for Birmingham, noted that the need for the new Central Library was due to the inadequate size of EM Barry's Reference Library (not featured in Hickman's book), resulting in the book stock being distributed across the city. Conceived in two main sections, the Reference Library is a square building raised above the level of Chamberlain Square originally with a large public open court beneath, the Children's Library and Quick Reference Library forming a lower block that addresses the square.

It is worth noting that in his research for the building, John Madin visited the US, dropping in on Paul Rudolph for lunch at the Yale Architecture and Arts building which Rudolph had recently completed, before leaving to start full time practice in New York. In writing to thank Rudolph for his hospitality, Madin states; "In all my travels, which have been reasonably extensive, I would say that this is one [building] which has achieved something which so many buildings lack today - character and humanity - the best building of it's kind I have ever seen."

Central Library was originally to have been clad in travertine, later Portland Stone (in accordance with the rest of the Civic Centre). According to records this was down-specified to reinforced concrete by the City Architect on grounds of cost, though Madin's references to heroic American modernist architecture and urbanism are clear.

At the time of writing, the building is still standing, just.

(source: Design Team Report, John Madin Design Group, 1973, and letter to Paul Rudolph, 1964, held at Library of Birmingham Archive, Hickman, D., Birmingham, Studio Vista Guide, 1970)

Mike Dring