The British Library, designed by Founding Fellow Sir Colin St John Wilson, has been recognised by the government as one of England’s finest modern public buildings with a Grade I listing.

Designed by Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long in 1975—8 and built between 1982 and 1999, it was the largest and arguably the most important UK public building to be built in the last quarter of the 20th century. Intended to move and inspire its visitors, today the British Library is much-loved and well-used by scholars and members of the public alike for its soaring and stimulating spaces. As a Grade I listed building it joins the top 2.5% of listed buildings in England and just only a handful of post-War British buildings considered to be of outstanding architectural importance.

With its 5 public floors sweeping upwards like a wave, the architecture is both immense and extraordinary. Surrounded on both sides by 11 Reading Rooms, the Library’s centrepiece is the magnificent King’s Library tower, home to the library of George III as well as the Treasures Gallery that hold national Treasures such as Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels and original Beatles lyrics.

Sir Colin St John Wilson

Sir Colin St John Wilson was a founding Fellow at Churchill College from 1962 to 1971 and a professor of architecture at Cambridge University from 1975 to 1989. He died in 2007 at age 85.

Director of Listing at Historic England, Roger Bowdler, said:

“The British Library is one of England’s finest modern public buildings. Listing it at Grade I acknowledges its outstanding architectural and historic interest. Sir Colin St John Wilson’s stately yet accessible design incorporates fine materials and a generous display of public art. The Library’s dramatic and carefully considered interiors achieve its ultimate goal: of creating a space to inspire thought and learning.

It joins a select group of other listed post-war public libraries on the National Heritage List for England. Even in today’s digital age, there is a clear future for these buildings. They illustrate a wide range of architectural styles, and together represent the very best in public architecture.”

Chief Executive of the British Library, Roly Keating, said:

“We are delighted that Sir Colin St John Wilson’s courageous and visionary design for the British Library’s London building has been recognised by a listing at the highest level. Even in the relatively short period since its opening it has worked its way into the affections of millions of visitors and researchers, who have discovered its beautiful spaces, subtle use of natural light and exquisite detailing.

It is also a privilege to be listed alongside a group of distinguished public library buildings from across the country. As well as celebrating architectural excellence, this listing is a reminder, in the midst of the digital age, of the vital importance of libraries as physical spaces of the highest quality at the heart of their communities.”

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 iconic design is protected for future generations to enjoy.”

The listing coincides with seven libraries from across the UK that have been awarded Grade II status.


Photo: British Library by Jack1956 via Wikimedia Commons and Sir Colin St John Wilson courtesy of

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