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Case study: The British Library

Case study: The British Library

Article published 2019Estimated reading time 1 minute

Good placemaking invites people into the building and creates a public space within the building.

“The British Library is a really interesting example of this. It was designed with no anticipation of public involvement. It was an elitist building designed deliberately to look so. It had a private courtyard that enters into an exclusive library space and was designed in every way to keep people out. But ironically it has evolved in the opposite direction. It has reinvented itself as a public building.

All of the workspaces that were there for elite library users have been taken over by students or by people travelling in and out of London who need a place to work for an hour or two. It has become a co-working space without even knowing it. It is 100% public, but it is still completely secure. Why can’t we design office buildings that work like that and which in turn contribute to the public realm?”

Frank Filskow Partner, Make

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Successful spaces

The café area of the upper gallery is such a popular meeting place that it has expanded to the level below.

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No unused areas

Every inch of the library’s public circulation is used by members of the public looking for places to pause or to work.

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New uses

Desks originally designed for library users are now used by members of the public for informal meetings and remote working.

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A dramatic setting

The setting and scale of the public areas set the stage for ad hoc habitation that creates a dynamic and attractive setting, drawing other users in.


This article featured in Exchange Issue No. 1, which explores the future of the workplace sector with architectural discussions, developer interviews, industry expert essays, design case studies and more.

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