Environmental pressures on the design of Manchester's John Rylands Library

Catherine Bowler, Peter Brimblecombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The enormous growth of the Victorian city and its parallel pollution problems confronted architects with great problems. Environmental pressures included denial of light, overcrowding, awkward sites, noise, accessibility and visibility of buildings, and air pollution. Corrosive pollutants were especially damaging to the minutely detailed Gothic architecture popular in Victorian Britain. Dense smoke made cities dark, coated the windows and penetrated inside damaging their contents. Basil Champneys, in designing Manchester's John Rylands Library, responded to these problems in an imaginative way that reflected the best of late nineteenth-century solutions. His thoughtful design made the most of available light and the crowded site. He used durable materials and colours that could resist the polluted air, while adopting electric light and air filtration inside. Valuable books and manuscripts were protected with carefully designed cases. Although not everyone was happy with the building, it has remained as an example of a determined attempt to cope with a very aggressive urban environment. Champneys confronted the conflict between design and the urban environment to produce a durable but pleasing library that proved suitable for users and provided secure accommodation for its contents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-191
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Design History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000

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