Philips Building, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Denys Lasdun
Date Built
University of London's Campus in Bloomsbury
The Philips Library is part of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.  The building occupies the site of what was Woburn Square.  So controversial was the plan to demolish the square’s Georgian houses that the commission Lasdun accepted in 1960 didn’t come to fruition for 13 years.  The building has been described as a distinct “pavillion” to Lasdun’s nearby Institute of Education with which it shares a pedestrianised square.  Despite its rocky beginnings, with significant protests delaying its construction, the building was given Grade II Listed status just 29 years after its completion.  In 2011 it was designated Grade II*.

The English Heritage listing information indicates that the Philips Library has, “A reinforced concrete frame of in situ concrete and interlocking structural pre-cast concrete panels with a white cement and Ballidon limestone aggregate mix, with a grit-basted finish. The windows are mostly horizontal sliding sashes with aluminium and bronze anodised finish, set back from the precast panels.”

The building doesn’t have an external ceremonial entrance since it was designed to be accessed from the adjacent Holden block.  It was built to accommodate half a million books but obviously over the years that has more than doubled.  There are also teaching rooms and offices.  Outside it has a service moat designed to allow light into the basement.  Originally, the ground floor had projecting balconies but circa 1970 John McAslan and Partners glazed them in on the north and east elevations.  Apparently, they did this with Lasdun’s blessing.

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