Sunday, February 12, 2012

“An Academy For Secret Police”

A view of the front exterior of The British Library. The view shows the large (and frankly unattractive) piazza through which visitors must pass in order to enter the building.

The British Library was the work of architect Colin St. John Wilson. It is the only building for which the architect is known. Wilson worked on the project for three decades, although visitors might be forgiven for thinking that the architect had devoted no more than three weeks to the design.

The British Library is a very bad building, resembling nothing so much as a medium-security prison. It reeks of the 1960s (the building opened in 1997), has an uninviting if not chilling atmosphere, and is constructed of exceedingly cheap materials. In the United States, it is very unlikely that such a bad building would ever have been built—and, if erected, would certainly have been quickly demolished.

The British Library was the largest public building erected in the United Kingdom during the 20th Century. I find it astonishing that the design passed any sort of review process.

The British Library has been praised for its architecture in a few quarters, and criticized in many others (Prince Charles took a few well-deserved public whacks at the building). Neither the building nor the architect—Wilson is now deceased—have any reputation in America.

It is for the display galleries that visitors make a trek to The British Library. The historic artifacts on view make The British Library an essential stop during any trip to London.

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