Ruskin Library Lancaster University Project info

Ruskin Library

Lancaster University

Purpose and setting

MJP designed this building for Lancaster University to house the Whitehouse Collection of works of art and writings by John Ruskin, the eminent Victorian art critic and writer.

The library is located on the road into the University and presents itself as a gateway building. The site forms an escarpment which defines the west boundary of the University and offers a dramatic view towards the sea.

The Ruskin Library is one of the most moving buildings of the second half of the century

Peter Davey, Architectural Review    

The design

Ruskin’s collection of works of art on paper, manuscripts, along with books relating to him, are archived within an enclosure in the centre of the building, known as the ‘treasury’. At entrance level, it is flanked by the curatorial offices, with a reading room at the far end.

The public have access from the double height entrance to the first floor galleries, arranged as two spaces which are connected through the treasury by a glass bridge.

Daylight is filtered through roof-lights to illuminate the perimeter walls and the flanks of the treasury which are finished in deep red Venetian plaster.

The Ruskin Library is one of the most moving buildings of the second half of the century

Peter Davey, Architectural Review

Metaphor and allusion

The linear arrangement of the building is deliberately church-like. The entrance, treasury and reading room respectively represent the narthex, choir and sanctuary of a church. The linear plan also meets the need for security, with the reading room remote from the entrance and only accessible through secure doors controlled by the curatorial staff.

Passive environmental control

The library’s solid masonry construction, along with its basement, provide environmental inertia to the reading room, the foyer and public galleries. These spaces and the enclosure of the ‘treasury’ in turn buffer the environment of the archived collection.

The construction of the treasury as a ‘building within a building’, therefore, creates the stable atmosphere and environment necessary for conservation of the archive, meeting the standards of BS5454 without the need for air conditioning.

  • Client
    Lancaster University
  • Awards
    RIBA Award, 1999
    Civic Trust Award, 1999
    Design Council Millennium Product, 1999
    Lancaster Design Award, 1998
    RFAC/BSkyB University Building of the Year, 1998
    Independent on Sunday Building of the Year, 1996
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Photos: Peter Durant