British Library, Euston Road, London

Colin St John Wilson
Date Built
1974 - 1998
Euston Road between Midland and Ossulston Street
The Harvard College Library's website includes a history of the British Library and it begins by saying that, "No other project, since the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral, over 400 years ago, took so long to construct or was surrounded by so much controversy."  However it goes on to add that, " ... the Library is now hailed as a great triumph of design and technology and is a showcase for British art, sculpture, and tapestry as well as a great repository of library materials."  In an article in the Guardian in May of 2007 Jonathan Glancey reflects on the long road to completion of the building adding that like St. Paul's, " ... the BL, was redesigned several times." 

Whilst the Prince of Wales likened the finished building to a "secret police headquarters", Glancey describes it as, "At once modest and monumental, the building is a curious behemoth. ... It looks big, angular, domineering and, well, a bit too bricky for comfort. The interior, though, still comes as a revelation: a wonderfully generous, beautifully crafted, light-filled homage to the work of Aalto on the one hand, and the Swedish architect, Gunnar Asplund, of Stockholm Library fame, on the other. Although a deeply unfashionable building today, the BL oozes quality, intelligence and the kind of civic grandeur we find all but impossible to shape nowadays."

My own view is that if the library resembles anything it is a ship sailing towards the Euston Road with a porthole, bridge and funnel - see belown.

The tower at the heart of the building rises above the King's Library, home to the 60,000 volume collection of George III given to the nation by George IV. The collection is housed in a six story, seventeen metre glass-walled tower, fully accessible to staff and visible to all visitors. 

The building also contains: 

- Eleven reading rooms accommodating 1,206 readers and 23 linear kilometres of shelving,
- A further 300 linear kilometres of shelving in four basement levels that are climate controlled to protect
   the 12 million volumes stored there,
- A mechanical bookhandling system designed to  locate and deliver books to collection points.
- Three exhibition galleries,
- and a 255 seat auditorium.

Outside the Piazza features a huge statue of Isaac Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi ....

.... and a piece called "Planets" by Anthony Gormley (see below).

More views of the outside of the library ....

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