The British Museum in London is an important setting for part of the story in The New Savants. The architecture is a wonderful mixture of old and new and well worth a visit.
The British Museum has been a source of interest to both British nationals, and foreigners, since it opened its doors in the 18th century. To facilitate the growing number of visitors, and items, that the museum would need to accommodate, its design was changed. The current architecture was designed in the 19th century, with other additions made to since to upgrade the facilities.
The Quadrangle Building
In 1823, after King George IV donated 60,000 books to the public, the British Museum had to be reconstructed to create enough space to store them. This task was assigned to Sir Robert Smikle, who designed The Quadrangle Building consisting of the north, south, east and west wings. He replicated building structures used by the Ancient Greeks, and the reconstruction was finished in 1852. The following year, the design won the gold medal from The Royal Institute of British Architects.
The building’s foundation consists of a concrete floor, and the frame made from cast iron filled in with London stock brick. In addition, the sections that face the public were also covered in Portland stone.
The King’s Library
The King’s Library is a massive room and the first part of the new building to be constructed. In its centre are four columns made from Aberdeen granite. The original design included 12, but the high cost of their maintenance caused the other columns to be abandoned. The floors are made of mahogany and oak, and contain yellow and gold ornamentation. The room was restored to reflect its original grandeur between 2000 and 2003, and renamed The Enlightenment Gallery. Visitors can view within it a collection of items, which illustrate how people interacted with the world during The Age of Enlightenment.
The South Entrance
Normally used as the building’s main entrance, The South Entrance boasts stairs, a pediment of the top and columns, designed in the same way as those found in Ancient Greek temples. To the left and right of the entrance, the original employees’ residences can still be observed.
In 1845, Robert Smikle’s brother, Sydney, designed Weston Hall imitating patterns and colours used in Greek designs. These bright colours created an uplifting atmosphere within the museum, and the hall’s restoration in 2000 included electronic lamps that replicate those that were originally there.
The Great Court
In the museum’s original design, there had been a garden in its centre. Various additions and changes caused this idea to be forfeited and the space to become unused. Designed by the architectural firm Foster and Partners, after winning a competition, The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court was opened in 2000. It is enclosed by a glass roof, with The Reading Room in its centre. The Great Court has transformed the area into the largest covered public square in Europe, and has welcomed millions of visitors since its grand opening on December 6, 2000 by Queen Elizabeth.