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Listed Building

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site only. All other information in the record is not statutory.

University of Edinburgh, Main Library, 30 George Square, EdinburghReference: LB50191

Status: Designated


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  • Category: A
  • Date Added: 17/01/2006
  • Last Date Amended: 17/07/2015


  • Local Authority: Edinburgh
  • Planning Authority: Edinburgh
  • Burgh: Edinburgh

National Grid Reference

  • NGRNT 25847 72828
  • Coordinates325847, 672828


Sir Basil Spence, Glover and Ferguson, 1965-1967 (John Hardie Glover, partner in charge; J M Marshall, project architect; Andrew Merrylees, job architect; Ove Arup & Partners, structural consultants; Gilbert Ash, main contractor). 8-storey (including basement and concealed raised attic), rectangular-plan university library in mannered late Modernist style, mounted on stepped podium. Ground falling to rear in reveals basement storey on Buccleuch Place. Horizontally articulated by 4 balconies serving as sun-screens, wrapped around entire structure. Balcony fronts supported on cubic blocks, bands of glazing recessed behind these; parapet cantilevered over top balcony. Reinforced concrete construction on 27-foot grid. Balconies fronted with concrete panels and Portland stone veneer; black polished granite cladding to 2 lower storeys to front and part side elevations. Smooth concrete rectangular structural columns; riven York stone is used as facing on the basement storey and retaining wall of the podium. The window and doorframes are of silver anodised aluminium.

N ELEVATION: double-height portico with rectangular columns bisected by horizontal members running entire length of building. Concrete beamed fascia attached to front of columns separating entrance from mezzanine level. Off-centre main entrance with 2-storey screen of plate glass doors at each end. Pair of deeply inset narrow slit windows, at ground and first floor to left of entrance. Row of inset slit windows, then storey-high plate glass at ground and first floors to right. Podium projects to right accommodating ramp and small flight of stairs, topped by planting troughs.

E, S and W ELEVATIONS: vertical and horizontal concrete panels express structural bays with 6-paned, full-height windows at ground and 1st floors. Narrow vertical slit windows. Service entrance and loading bay, with metal roller shutters and hardwood door to S (rear).

INTERIOR: double-height concourse, with gallery and mezzanine, accommodating book service area. Other rooms and offices, including exhibition room, arranged around concourse with stairs up to 1st floor mezzanine and 2nd floor. Upper part of foyer and exhibition room take up much of 1st floor, the remainder planned as reading rooms and staff offices. Book stack areas to 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors, arranged around circulation core of staircase and 3 lifts. Additional staircases to E and W ends of building, also giving access to lavatories on each floor. Tank rooms and storage space to 6th floor. Technical space, including bindery, strong room, stores, filtration plant and loading bay to basement. Teak finishes to concourse walls, stair handrails and some other spaces. Extensive use of fire-screens of timber slats and wired glass. White beech doors and other linings, in conjunction with plaster surfaces. Foyer paved with quartzite slabs; exhibition room paved in polished granite. Supporting columns are of exposed polished concrete, or plastered. Black steel bookshelves; flexible partitions to upper storeys are wooden panels mounted on black steel uprights.

Statement of Special Interest

A-Group with David Hume Tower (Block A) and David Hume Lecture Block (Block B); William Robertson Building (Block C); Adam Ferguson Building (Block D); George Square Lecture Theatre (Block E) (see separate list descriptions). This library is a major work of Sir Basil Spence, Glover and Ferguson and is one of the key Scottish buildings of the mid-1960s. It was the practice's largest building in Edinburgh at the time and received a RIBA award in 1968 and a Civic Trust Commendation in 1969.

John Hardie Glover claimed a functionalist agenda and user/designer collaboration generated the design, with the local authority's height restriction and the curtilage of the site dictating the massing. However, aesthetics were clearly very important. Thus the mannerisms, such as the horizontal members projecting through the portico and the fascia, which, although containing electric strip lights, is mainly to balance the proportion but also does much to block out natural light on the 1st floor. Similarly, there is no functional need for balconies as sun-screens on every elevation. By such means the bulk of the building (the footprint is one acre) was successfully disguised by the suppression of vertical elements on the upper storeys.

The architects' interest in the sensual properties of the materials, which are of exceptionally high quality, both externally and internally, can be clearly seen. The stairs and landings were originally covered with ribbed rubber, and other floors in black and grey linoleum or carpet tiles. The original black metal shelving system was designed by the architects along with the manufacturers, as were some of the tables and study benches. The architects selected other furniture, fabrics and door furniture, of mainly Scandinavian design. The design formula was repeated by the same team of architects, librarian and services consultants for the Library at University College Dublin (1970-72).

Basil Spence's University development plan of 1955 was generated around the pivotal hub of the Library site, after it was chosen as the quietest location within the central development area. Spence received the commission for the Library around this time, although work did not commence for a decade. The University's requirement, by that time, was for 2,500 reader places, 2 million books and 114 staff. Expansion plans allowed for a possible extension to the S.

The Main Library is in good condition, both externally and internally (2004), although there have been changes to the interior. The original island service desk has been removed and replaced with a linear counter at the rear of the concourse. The original turnstile and staff desk arrangement has been changed and the pebble-filled recessions in the foyer removed. A single flight of flying stairs connecting the former current periodicals room on the ground floor and the former statistical reference room on the first floor has been removed and new partitions installed due to a change of use. A cafeteria has been installed in the basement and newer partitions on the 5th floor have been installed to create reception and reading rooms for Special Collections. In the summer of 2004 the first floor committee room and office suite and the interiors of the administrative rooms to the S of the ground floor were stripped out and new partitions installed. The original decorative scheme has not been adhered to in the maintenance of paintwork and floor coverings. Nevertheless, most of the original joinery and wall linings are intact. The Exhibition Room and Drummond Room, on the ground floor, are still in original condition. On the first floor, the suite containing staff common room, coffee room and kitchen, retain original fixtures and fittings. A large quantity of the furniture in the building is original, although moved to different locations.

Statutory address updated (2015). Previously listed as '30 George Square, University of Edinburgh, Main Library'.



Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: CANMORE ID 122525

J H Glover, Edinburgh University Library (1968).

P Willis, New Architecture in Scotland (1977) pp12-13.

Architectural Review (June 1968) p440.

Architects' Journal (June 1968) pp1391-1404.

Edinburgh Architectural Association Yearbook No.13 (1969).

J Gifford, C McWilliam D Walker, The Buildings of Scotland (1991) p245.

B Edwards, Basil Spence 1907-1976, (1995) pp 11, 55, 66-68, 64, 82, 97.

M Glendinning (ed), Rebuilding Scotland (1997) pp165-167, 141-142.

About Designations

Listed Buildings

We list buildings of special architectural or historic interest and these are selected according to criteria published in the, Annex 2, pp74-76.

The information in the listed building record gives an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building(s). It is not a definitive historical account or a complete description of the building(s). The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

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