Wednesday, 21 May 2014

British Library, Euston Road NW1

Eduardo Paolozzi's gigantic bronze image of Sir Isaac Newton dominates the forecourt of the British Library. It is very imposing, with the grandeur and poise of all Paolozzi's work.
Erected in 1995, the design is based, of course, on William Blake's famous picture of Newton as a creature of the earth, grubbing about measuring stuff while wilfully closing his eyes to the beauties of the heavens and of the spiritual world. An inch-worm. Science, Blake seems to say, destroys beauty and truth by the process of investigation.
This is not an appropriate image for a temple of learning, and this clumsy use of misplaced symbolism is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the library building as a flagship of British culture and learning.
The British Museum greets you with a Grecian facade. You have to go up to get to the grand entrance. Arriving there always feels like visiting a temple of learning. The old circular reading room could be instantly taken in with a sweep of the eye, a rational place devoted to knowledge.
The forecourt of Sir Colin St John Wilson's BL takes you downwards towards an invisible front door in a corner. Walking across it feels very much like being sucked down the plughole of the kitchen sink.
As a final irony, the Newton statue was funded not by the Library but by the Football Pools. And the view that ordinary non-library-going, footie-loving members of the public passing along Ossulton Street get is this:

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