This project delivers a distinctive series of new hospitality spaces in the landmark Grade I listed British Library. In response to the rapidly evolving King’s Cross neighbourhood, the project objective is to capture the footfall of this renewed streetscape allowing the Library to become more welcoming, improving community engagement and increasing revenue-making opportunities. The newly refurbished spaces include a dedicated Members’ lounge, bar, dining and new staff facilities – in support of the new Members Programme and Cultural Agenda that the Library launched in November 2016.
The design works through a series of bold yet sensitive interventions drawing inspiration from the ethos of the building itself, designed by Sir Colin St John Wilson and M.J. Long.
A key reference is the King’s Library, the 65,000 volumes collected by George III, at the core of the British Library main atrium. The pattern, colour and latent geometries of this structure and its stacked shelves of richly coloured leather and vellum bindings, is used as the generator for a new vibrant design language. This lends a bold, warm new character to the series of Members Rooms, which are located on Level 2, across the café atrium from the King’s Library, its books visibly framed and echoed through openings, orientating users.
A further influence for the new spaces came from Wilson’s belief in the integration of art with architecture – exemplified by the richly layered composition and contrasting tones of the powerful tapestry based on Ron Kitaj’s painting If Not, Not (1975-76) that he commissioned. This informed the palette of distinct tones and colours that characterise each of the new rooms, distinguishing and framing different uses – social bar to quieter study areas – and providing accents to the existing finishes of natural travertine floors, warm maple and oak joinery and predominantly white walls.
Other design notes draw inspiration from existing detailing: with the tactile brass and bronze-finish to the bars echoing the metalwork used throughout the building – and similarly left unsealed to enrich patination through use, while the patterning of lattice-work screens reinterprets that of stone finishes found elsewhere.
Loose, black-framed furniture, upholstered in complementary hues, completes the warm, intimate environment and provides further accents against the new carpet and existing joinery.
This rich design language is continued through the refurbished bar located across from the main building in the previously under-utilised foyer of the auditorium in the Conference Centre, now renamed the Knowledge Centre. Members have access to this completely refurbished and newly fitted-out bar area, which can remain open independent of the main building, and supports a variety of cultural and commercial events.
A new staff restaurant and lounge form the core of the improved staff facilities relocated to Level 3, including a support kitchen and open-plan servery able to cater for 200. Served by a new dumbwaiter and glass DDA passenger lift linking directly down to the public foyer and the main Level 1 kitchens, these spaces can also be let out for public and private functions, accommodating revenue-generating events.
This development brings fresh and coherent visual clarity to three distinct areas within the Library complex, creating lively, comfortable spaces to delight and enhance the users’ experience, whilst evolving the Library’s brand and visual identity. The imaginative and practical transformation of these existing spaces now delivers versatile and commercially sustainable new facilities, adding a new layer to the Library’s evolving history. This refurbishment is a step towards a resilient future for the Library as a technologically enabled, vibrant and connected civic space.