The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Click to see full size; © Paul Grundy
The Piazza © Paul Grundy
Foyer © Paul Grundy
The King's Library © Paul Grundy
Science and Patents Library © Elain Harwood
Humanities Library © Elain Harwood

100 Buildings 100 Years

1998: The British Library, London

Status: Unlisted
Condition: Good condition
Type: Public building
Architect: Colin St. John Wilson
Location: 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB

Colin St John Wilson’s work on the British Library began in 1962, in partnership with Leslie Martin on a design for a site in Bloomsbury, and ended with the opening of the building (in truncated form) at St Pancras in 1997. The frustrating course of the project, with many false starts, had led Peter Hall to name it as a ‘Great Planning Disaster’, and yet the finished library precisely conveys Wilson’s ambitions for a grand national building in the spirit of the ‘other tradition’ of modern architecture, by which he mainly meant the legacy of Alvar Aalto.

This is a humane building, executed under the exacting eye of its architect down to the Aaltoesque details of its door handles and with the integration of artworks by friends. The central glass box containing The King’s Library was a late change, following the supplanting by computer terminals of a traditional catalogue hall.

by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

Article on Colin St John Wilson by Fiona MacCarthy

British Library website

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