This week marked 20 years since the British Library’s St Pancras building was officially opened, so we thought it timely to take a look at this London ‘treasure’.
Located on Euston Road, the building, complete with rather grand piazza, was designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long.
The largest public building to be constructed in the 20th century in the UK, it was designed specifically to house the British Library collections – which itself had only been created in 1972 when an act was passed by Parliament.
The building – which did draw some criticism over its design when it was completed but has been embraced by the public – was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 25th June, 1998.
Grade II-listed since 2015, it’s comprised of 112,000 square metres spread over 14 floors – including five below ground – and features 11 reading rooms specialising in various subject areas including one for ‘manuscripts’, another for ‘maps’ and another for ‘rare books and music’.
The centrepiece of the building is the King’s Tower which is home to the library of King George III and the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.
The collection housed at the library includes more than 150 million items. Highlights – many of which are housed in the Treasures Gallery – include a copy of the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook as well as a first edition of The Times (18th March, 1788), manuscripts by everyone from Jane Austen and James Joyce to Handel and the Beatles, and the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book.
The library, which also hosts temporary exhibitions, is also home to a restaurant, cafe and several coffee shops as well as its own retail shop.
There are now plans to further develop the campus by expanding onto a 2.8 hectare site at its northern end with the aim, among other things, of creating more exhibition spaces, new learning facilities and a permanent home for the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. A joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), won a competitive process to undertake the development last year.
WHERE: British Library, 96 Euston Road (nearest Tube stations are Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm (includes Treasures Gallery – exhibition times can vary); COST: Free (but admission fees may be charged for exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.bl.uk.
PICTURE: Top – Aerial view of the St Pancras building (Tony Antoniou); Below – One of the reading rooms (Paul Grundy).