UK - London - Bloomsbury: British Museum - Great Court and Reading Room
The central quadrangle of the British Museum was redeveloped to become the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, commonly referred to simply as the Great Court, during the late 1990s. Opened by Queen Elizabeth II in Decemer 2000, it is the largest covered square in Europe. Within the Great Court, there are shops and a café. It is deliberately open for longer that the British Museum itself. The tessellated glass and steel structured roof, by architect Norman Foster and engineering firm Buro Happold, covers the entire court and surrounds the original circular circular Reading Room in the center. It is 1,656 panes of glass windowpanes, each of a unique shape because of the undulating nature of the roof. Controversially, some of the stone in the court is from France, rather than being Portland Stone from southern England as agreed in the original contract with the masons.
The British Museum Reading Room, situated in the centre of the Great Court of the British Museum, used to be the main reading room of the British Library. This function moved to the new British Library building at St Pancras in 1997, but the Reading Room remains in its original form. Designed by Sydney Smirke on a suggestion by the Library's Chief Librarian Anthony Panizzi, following an earlier competition idea by William Hosking, the Reading Room was in continual use from 1857 until its closure in 1997. The Reading Room's dome roof is metal framed, and the surface that makes up the ceiling is a type of papier mache. Access was restricted to registered researchers only; however, reader's credentials were generally available to anyone who could show that they were a serious researcher. The Reading Room was used by a large number of famous figures, including notably Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Mohandas Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, Vladimir Lenin and H. G. Wells. Following the move to the new site, the old Reading Room was opened to the public in 2000, following a renovation by noted architect Norman Foster. It contains a collection of books on history, art, travel, and other subjects relevant to the British Museum's collections, on open shelves.