A simple box form, striped with glass and stone, Western Bank Library is "the best modern building in Sheffield", according to architectural scholar Nikolaus Pevsner. And we reckon this Pevsner guy was right.
In 1959 the library was opened, quite fittingly, by T.S. Eliot – a master of modernism in its literary form.
Western Bank Library was the result of a national architecture competition held in 1953. The brief: to design a series of modern buildings fit for the University of Sheffield's post-war influx of students, centred around a library with the capacity to hold one million volumes. The winners: Gollins Melvin Ward (GMW), an emerging London-based practice keen to expand modernist architecture in Britain.
The Arts Tower – also part of GMW's master plan – was added in 1965, and holds hands with the library via a bridge between their mezzanine floors. Together, this pair of modern architectural stunners was Grade II* listed in 1993.
Western Bank outgrew that original million-volume vision by the 21st century, and another library was added to the campus in the form of the Information Commons. But students continue to pass through Western Bank's beautiful marble lobby, up its wooden stairs and past the Robin Day chairs – seeking knowledge in its catalogue; losing themselves in its subterranean stacks; gazing out from the grand reading room windows, across the duck pond and leafy lawn of Weston Park.
Those lucky, lucky things.
While the library itself is for the use of students and University of Sheffield staff, its gallery is open to the public and has a great programme of temporary exhibitions.