British Library Extension Moves Forward

John Hill
2. February 2023
Illustrative view of scheme from Midland Road (Visualization © RSHP)

Three decades in the making, the British Library opened its doors to the public in April 1998 on a large plot of land next to St. Pancras International. Although the design by Colin St. John Wilson with M. J. Long was not immediately beloved by Londoners, in 2015 it was granted Grade I listed status for “outstanding architectural and historic interest.” Still technically a teenager at the time, the building became one of the youngest buildings to be given such a rare status. The listing means that any modifications and extensions need to obtain “Listed Building Consent” from the local planning authority — which the British Library did on January 30.

The British Library in 2012 (Photo: Roger Davies/Wikimedia Commons)

The extension designed by RSHP will sit directly north of the British Library, on land previously set aside for expansion. The site is now abutted on the north by the Francis Crick Institute, a 12-story, 980,000-sf biomedical research center designed by HOK and completed in 2016. RSHP's British Library Extension will have a similar scale to the Crick Institute: approximately one million gross square feet across twelve floors, with the first three floors devoted to the library and the upper nine floors given over for commercial space, tapping into the area around St. Pancras and King's Cross now being known as “Knowledge Quarter.” Writing in the weeks leading up to this week's Council vote, critics of the plan objected to the scale of the extension relative to the original building, which ascends from the plaza to a height of around 135', or about 12 stories.

The British Library in 2009, before the construction of the Francis Crick Institute at far left (Photo: Patche99z/Wikimedia Commons)

The British Library is partnering with Stanhope plc and Mitsui Fudosan UK Ltd (SMBL) on the mixed-use project. The three floors of the library will comprise 100,000 sf of the extension, with some of the components including

  • New exhibition galleries, a new learning center, additional event spaces;
  • New, more informal entrances, and a new foyer to host events with local communities and businesses;
  • Dedicated maker spaces;
  • New outdoor courtyards and a dedicated community garden;
  • A permanent home for The Alan Turing Institute.

Camden Council's vote is not the end. The next step, according to the website dedicated to the British Library Extension, “is for the GLA [Greater London Authority] to consider the application and to finalize the necessary legal agreements. Construction works — once given the go-ahead — are anticipated to start between late 2024 and early 2025.”

View of commercial entrance looking southwest on Midland Road (Visualization © RSHP)
Foyer view looking east towards Midland Road (Visualization © RSHP)
Learning Centre looking out to courtyard (Visualization © RSHP)
Courtyard, with existing British Library at right (Visualization © RSHP)

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