Great Court at the British Museum

Foster + Partners, London, 2000


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The Great Court, with its newly restored Reading Room, provides a public forum at the museum's heart 

Nigel Young     Download Original

  • The Great Court, with its newly restored Reading Room, provides a public forum at the museum    
  • The lightweight ethereal roof floats over the Great Court    
  • New staircases encircle the drum    
  • New external cladding of the restored reading room    
  • The restored reading room dome    
  • The restored reading room    
  • Aerial view of the glass roof    
  • Basement plan    
  • Ground floor plan    
  • First floor plan    
  • Second floor plan    
  • Roof plan    
  • Cross section    
  • Long section    

Restoration of the British Museum's Reading Room and the creation of a dramatic glazed internal court

For many years, the British Museum’s Great Court was nothing more than a memory, choked as it was with a miscellaneous collection of storage buildings. At its centre, Sydney Smirke’s circular Reading Room was suffering from neglect, poor additions, and a torturous access route.

The architect's solution was to clear away the many accretions of the court, reopening it as a grand public forum at the heart of the museum. This vast space is top lit by an undulating glass roof, supported by the internal courtyard walls and by columns set within the Reading Room’s new skin of stone cladding.

At an urban level, the Great Court provides a pedestrian route through the building, inviting the public to use its spaces for more than serious study, but as a place to meet, relax, sit and enjoy. It also provides new connections between the museum’s galleries, allowing the visitor to move freely from one collection to another, rather than be drawn through endless linear galleries.


  • Begun: Apr 1998
  • Completed: Nov 2000
  • Floor area: 19,000m2
  • Sector: Arts and culture
  • Total cost: £100M
  • Funding: Millenium Commission, Heritage Lottery
  • Tender date: 1994
  • Procurement: Construction Management
  • Address: British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom

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