The Great Courtyard, The British Museum, London

Foster + Partners
Date Built
Opened 2000
Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury
Apparently the original plan for the courtyard at the centre of the British Museum was for it to be a garden.  However, in 1854 a circular building was erected in the centre of the courtyard to accommodate the museum's library Reading Room.  The British Museum's website says that the library building was constructed, " Using cast iron, concrete, glass and the latest heating and ventilation systems, it was a masterpiece of mid-nineteenth century technology. The room had a diameter of 140 feet (approximately 42.6m) and was inspired by the domed Pantheon in Rome."  In 1997 the library's contents and the book stacks were removed and the books found a new home in the British Library on Euston Road.

At the same time a competition was launched to attract designs for the revitalization of the courtyard.  The brief had three aims:  revealing hidden space,  revising old spaces and creating new spaces.  The plan of Foster and Partners was selected from among 130 entries.  The Reading Room was completely restored to its original splendor and a glass and steel roof was added to the Great Courtyard increasing the enclosed public space within the museum by 40%.  The roof incorporates 3,312 unique pieces of glass.  Foster's website says of it that, "The glazed canopy ... is a fusion of state-of-the-art engineering and economy of form. Its unique geometry is designed to span the irregular gap between the drum of the Reading Room and the courtyard facades, and forms both the primary structure and the framing for the glazing, which is designed to maximise daylight and reduce solar gain."

"At its heart is the magnificent space of the restored Reading Room, now an information centre and library of world cultures, which for the first time in its history is open to all. Broad staircases encircle the Reading Room and lead to a gallery for temporary exhibitions with a restaurant above."