Once-derided British Library given historic building status


The British Library, once called “one of the ugliest buildings in the world” in Parliament, has been made a Grade-I listed building in England. That’s the top ranking on the nation’s Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

Designed by Colin St. John Wilson, the modern building was completed in 1998, nine years behind schedule and $546 million over budget.

Along the way, the building was the subject of much derision. Prince Charles was one of its most high-profile critics, describing it as “a dim collection of sheds groping for some symbolic significance” and likening its reading room to “the assembly hall of an academy for secret police.”


The reading room was a particularly sore subject. Until the early 1970s, the library was part of the British Museum. The circular room with its domed ceiling was both visually stunning and historically significant -- Arthur Conan Doyle, Karl Marx and Bram Stoker were among those who read and wrote there.

But the public has come to embrace the new library; it’s regularly named one of Britain’s top 20 tourist destinations.

With the announcement that the British Library will be a Grade-I listed building, the country’s heritage minister Tracey Crouch said, “The British Library divided opinion from the moment its design was revealed, but I am glad that expert advice now allows me to list it, ensuring that its design is protected for future generations to enjoy.”

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