British Library's 12-Storey Extension Gets The Go-Ahead

By M@ Last edited 16 months ago

Last Updated 01 February 2023

British Library's 12-Storey Extension Gets The Go-Ahead
View of the British Library extension from the north

One of the world's great libraries looks set to embiggen.

The proposed extension to the British Library has received planning approval from Camden Council. The new wing, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, will sit behind the existing building on land that's long been earmarked for the purpose.

The £500 million development will bring new galleries, learning and library space to the institution, as well as new entrances convenient for St Pancras station. The Alan Turing Institute for computer science and AI will also get a new home.

A sizeable chunk of the development, though, is designed to make money. The project is receiving no public funding and will have to recoup costs through commercial means. Hence, we see several storeys of office space, to be leased out to "knowledge-based cultural and scientific businesses" — part of an ongoing initiative to develop this area as the 'Knowledge Quarter'.

An alternative view of the extension
View from the north-west, with the existing building to the right and the Francis Crick Institute to the left

Some objections had been raised by local residents that the 12-storey building will block light, and destroy the adjacent Story Garden, a community garden project. The plans have also received a few broadsides in the architectural press, with one commentator dubbing them "a gross over development". For its part, the library will provide £23 million towards affordable housing in the area, and will include a new community garden as part of the plans.

The Council's approval means the project is now likely to proceed in the near-term, although it still needs a final thumbs-up from the Mayor's office.

Inside the foyer of the proposed British Library extension

The new structure continues the red-and-terracotta wave that has come to characterise this end of Midland Road. The template was set in the 1860s with construction of the Midland Grand Hotel and St Pancras station. The orange bricks of the British Library continued the theme in the 1990s. An extension to the station in the Noughties and the more recent construction of the Francis Crick Institute both used shades of orange-red. The new library wing continues the russet run, though it's a pity not to see a few bricks on its facade.

Curiously, the designs had to set aside a subterranean void as safeguarded space for a future Crossrail 2 station — part of a long-proposed north-south rail link. That project hardly seems imminent, and we can expect to see "Did you know the British Library has a secret bat cave?" articles about a decade from now.

Details of the scheme can be found on the British Library's dedicated website, and the 270 documents that constitute the planning application are here.

Images by RHSP.