Associated Architects completes an environmentally responsible library at the University of Birmingham


Designed by Associated Architects, the University of Birmingham’s £42m library is set within a 5.5-hectare landscaped green space at the heart of its Edgbaston campus. Replacing an outmoded 1950s building, the 17,000-square-metre scheme is organised over six storeys and incorporates 62 kilometres of shelving.

The plan is bisected by a central ‘street’, with quiet study space arranged around the perimeter. Open access facilities, including a cafe and flexible atrium space, are combined with IT stations on the ground floor. The reserve bookstore is located below ground. Naturally lit by a series of atria, the upper-floors accommodate reading and study rooms, support facilities and training spaces.

Rated BREEAM Excellent, the library is around 50 per cent more energy-efficient than its predecessor, and is contributing to the university’s 2020 target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. Environmental features include high levels of insulation and airtightness, low-energy lighting, an exposed concrete frame for thermal mass, and 570-square-metres of roof-mounted photovoltaics.

Externally, a double-height colonnade signals the entrance and addresses the campus’ ‘green heart’. The angled west elevation is aligned to the new ring road, maximising views of the railway and canal beyond. The facade is designed to maximise the need for daylighting while avoiding overheating from solar gain, writes Associated Architects. Active horizontal shading is combined with fixed gold-coloured anodised vertical fins to control internal temperatures. The brise-soleil gives the facade a distinct rhythm, providing a dynamic aspect that changes at different times of day.


A Schueco FW60 curtain wall system featuring CTB roller blinds and bespoke extruded fins is integrated with the solar shading system. Clean lines are maintained internally by recessing the roller blind boxes at high level and employing an infill floor panel beside the trench heaters at slab edge. The latter required structural support independent of the facade due to movement.

A detailed specification was prepared for the exposed concrete frame to ensure a high quality finish. Class 1, type C, was achieved together with tight restrictions on the number of blowholes and surface variations permitted. A clear Keim wash was applied to the concrete on site to help provide a consistent finish. Originally designed to a depth 400mm, the floor slabs were later changed to 275mm post-tension elements, increasing floor-to-ceiling heights and providing greater flexibility. The lighting had to be carefully considered in relation to the post-tension strand positions however, and required early design coordination. The final lighting zones were cast into the slab and then fed from the raised access floor above.


Acoustic control is central to the design, particularly in the atria. The feature staircase in the centre of the building acts as a large acoustic baffle and is clad with insulated, gold-coloured, metal perforated panels. Further sound attenuation is provided by insulated panels lining the perimeter of the slabs in the atria. Suspended metal acoustic baffles are located above the perimeter study spaces to contain the sound and prevent it from entering the atria.

Other study spaces, which vary in function from individual to group to silent working, are treated locally with a combination suspended baffles and acoustic ceilings.

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Associated Architects
Structural engineer
Services engineer
Quantity surveyor
Sweett Group

Landscape architect
Schueco, Bailey
Concrete wash
Main contractor