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Topping Out Ceremony for Library of Birmingham

On 14 September 2011, Councillor Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, laid the last piece of concrete on the highest point of the new Library of Birmingham at the official Topping Out ceremony. This is a significant marker in the construction of the new £188.8 million building, due to open in 2013.

Topping out

Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: "I am thrilled to be celebrating the Topping Out of the Library of Birmingham, a major milestone in the construction of a very significant new building for Birmingham. For the people working on the site, and with the project, today is a day of celebration and reflection on the formidable progress we have made. Whilst for the people of Birmingham today is about showing everyone the scale of our ambition - and hopefully giving them a flavour of just how incredible our new Library will be.

"Through the new Library of Birmingham not only are we re-defining the role of the Library in the 21st century, we are proving that Arts and Culture can be a powerful catalyst for economic regeneration as well. The fact the project is already employing 800 people, and should hopefully lever in the associated developments to employ thousands more, is a formidable success story for the city."

See the Topping Out ceremony on YouTube

Mike Whitby was helped by Buta Singh Mahal, 34, from Smethwick, who has worked on the site since building work began in February 2010, when he first mixed the concrete for the foundations to be laid. He also mixed the concrete used for the Topping Out today.

The Topping Out took place on the roof of the rotunda on the summit of the building, which will eventually house the Shakespeare Memorial Room, originally a feature in the Victorian Library and currently in Birmingham Central Library. Giles Taylor, a member of the Company of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, began the ceremony by reading two Shakespeare quotes suggested by members of the public in a competition on Twitter. The Shakespeare Memorial Room will be located alongside a viewing gallery giving panoramic views across the city.

See Giles Taylor from the REP reading a quotation from Shakespeare's play All’s Well That Ends Well on top of the Library of Birmingham.

"All's well that ends well; still the fine's the crown;
Whate'er the course, the end is the renown."

The Topping Out was also celebrated with construction partner Carillion and marked by the first performances in the Library’s outdoor amphitheatre in Centenary Square, with an appearance by Black Voices, led by Carol Pemberton, a Face of the new Library of Birmingham, and by members of the company from the REP, who performed extracts from Shakespeare and from their current production, Tom Stoppard’s ‘Travesties’.

The company of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre perform in the amphitheatre


REP actors at topping out

©Jas Sansi

Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, the Library of Birmingham will comprise 10 levels, with nine above ground and a lower ground floor. It is being constructed using 21,000m3 of concrete in the frame, enough to fill more than eight Olympic sized swimming pools. The frame is reinforced by 3,000 tonnes of steel, the equivalent weight of around 35,750 average UK men. Thirty thousand metres cubed of material, enough to fill 60,000 bath tubs, had to be dug out of the basement. There is a core workforce of 800 people building the Library and in total it is expected that 1.6 million person hours will be expended on the project.

In July the Library of Birmingham celebrated the 100th person supported into work on the project by the Birmingham City Council’s Employment Access Team. Birmingham City Council set clear employment and training targets for the project, aiming to recruit 250 local unemployed people for work and apprenticeships. So far, 71 people have secured jobs as labourers and qualified tradesmen such as carpenters, steelfixers, scaffolders and plantsmen.

Other opportunities have included site administration, trainee mechanical and electrical engineer and trainee ductwork erector. Thirty-nine apprentices have also been recruited and the Employment Access Team are supporting 10 more young people into Carillion's November 2011 Apprenticeship intake. Carillion are working with Business Action on the Homeless offering work experience opportunities, which can then lead on to full time employment via the Employment Access Team - the 100th person came through this process and secured a labouring job with Titan Ceilings.

The building will feature a spacious entrance and foyer with mezzanine, the gateway to both the Library and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, to which the new Library will be physically connected. There will also be a new flexible studio theatre, a lower ground level with indoor terraces, four further public levels and two outdoor elevated garden terraces.

A 'golden box' of secure archive storage will occupy two levels of the building, within which the city’s internationally significant collection of archives, photography and rare books will be stored. A new state-of-the-art exhibition space will open up public access to the collections for the first time. The exterior of the building, from the first to the eighth floor will be wrapped with an intricate metal façade, echoing the gasometers, tunnels, canals and viaducts which fuelled Birmingham’s industrial growth.

Press Release 14.9.2011

Topping Out viewed from the on-site crane

Topping Out from the crane

©Paul Reynolds