Ruskin Library
Lancaster University
United Kingdom

MacCormac Jamieson Prichard 1998

MacCormac's Ruskin Library stands at the entrance to the Lancaster University campus, a prominent beacon as you drive in and a contrast with the array of 1960s buildings behind it. The new library building was built to house the largest collection of material about, or owned by, John Ruskin. 

The simple, clean, white geometry of the outside contrasts with the warm materials and colors used within - deep red and black paints, waxed and polished Venetian plaster. The contrast is the more striking because the curved walls stop short and both front and back, allowing the warmth of the building to be felt from outside.

Within, there is plenty to appreciate in the materials and the detailing: the wooden furniture designed by the architect, the extraordinarily tall and extraordinarily narrow shutters that allow library-friendly levels of natural light in through the slits that punctuate the curved walls on the outside.

Peter Davey, in the Architectural Review (June 1998) asks,

'Would Ruskin have liked it? I don't that that he would have been a fan of the outside, for he did not usually welcome overall symmetry, believe that buildings should express their inner workings on their exteriors. But he would surely have approved of the clarity of the structure, in which two huge expressed reinforced-concrete portal frames running from east to west are stabilized by the curved walls, and the roof is supported on exposed paired timber joists. He would have liked the changefulness of the interior - for instance the way in which those battered black walls just start, and stop when they are no longer needed. As one of the first people to be an environmentalist in the modern sense, he would have welcomed the way in which the internal climate is balanced by drawing in cool air at night from the little moat which follows the curve of the walls, so largely obviating the need for air conditioning. He would have enjoyed the nobility and appropriateness of the materials, the contrast between them, rough and smooth, and the craftsmanship, which in some places is appropriately savage, showing the hand of the workman. Of course, he would have welcomed the allusions. Surely, difficult thought he was, he could scarcely fail to be touched, As his star rises again, and his thoughts are profoundly relevant once more, their little storehouse, the eighth lamp, is one of the most moving buildings of the second half of the century.'

The Ruskin Library is a more ambitious variation of MacCormac's earlier theme in his Fitzwilliam College Chapel in Cambridge, where a similar structure and plan is used to create a totally different type of space.



Simon Glynn, 2001

How to visit

The library is prominently in front of you, on the right hand side, as you drive into the university campus and up the hill. The campus is a few miles south of Lancaster, with its entrance directly on the east side of the A6.

The reading room is not open to the public, but the rest of the building is. For opening times and contact details visit the library's web site below, call the library on +44 1524 593587, or e-mail .


Books and other web sites

The Ruskin Library maintains an informative web site, with both practical visitor information and further pictures and information about the building, including MacCormac's own description of his intentions. The web site is at .

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