British Library Piazza



Monday 4:55-5:55


  • When I first arrive, the plaza is pretty empty. Due to the recent rain, all of the outdoor seating is empty and the outdoor sandwich stand is closed.
  • There is a small, circular sitting area off to the side that largely remains empty as well due to the lack of cover and wet seating.
  • A little after five the foot traffic going through the plaza increases
    • Most people are just walking through, using the plaza as a shortcut, while others head into the library.
    • I noticed that the people who walked through the plaza mostly wore casual clothing, bundled up for the cold. A fair amount however, wore business attire with nice coats and trousers.Definitely passing through to get home after work.
    • A small number of people carry suitcases.
      • Most of these people carry small travel sized suitcases and head towards King’s Cross/St. Pancras
    • At about 5:25 a huge group of students about 15-17 years old emerge from the library and wait under the roof for a minute before leaving as a pack out the main entrance. These are pretty much the only young people I see, the overwhelming majority are adults.
    • The vast majority of people who walk through are alone, some talking into their headphones and others listening to music. These people walk faster on average.
    • Some people walk in pairs, though not nearly as many. Interestingly I didn’t really see people walk through in groups larger than two. These people typically walked slightly slower on average.
    • One man jogs through, wearing gym sneakers, basketball shorts, a hoodie and a backpack. Most likely he is going to or from the gym, though I would guess that he is going to the gym considering the time and his lack of disheveled appearance. I also doubt that the jog is the workout itself as he is not dressed for the cold weather, so it is much more likely he is jogging to keep warm.
    • I only saw one person ride their bike through the plaza, though interestingly they came in from the library, rode down a ramp and rode out the side entrance.
  • Those who are hanging out outside take shelter under the protruding roof of the library or under the covered walkway to the street.

    • Basically all of these people are taking a smoke break and many are drinking coffee.
    • Some are alone but a lot of these people chat with friends.
    • Those under the the walkway typically only stop for about five minutes to smoke before going into the library (most come out from the library in the first place) or moving on from the plaza entirely.
    • Those next to the library itself tend to stay out for longer, about eight to fifteen minutes on average. They are usually in pairs, drinking coffee, smoking and chatting with a friend.
      • Two men stay for about fifteen minutes, chatting comfortably with one another before going back into the library.
      • A young man and woman stay for about eight minutes, flirting while they take a smoke break before going back into the library.
      • 3 men who clearly work in the library, one a security guard, the others of unknown jobs but with badges, take a break under the awning between the walkway and the library, chatting. Interestingly only one of them smokes.
      • When I leave, I see two women sitting in chairs underneath the large umbrella of the sandwich stall chatting. They are the only ones I have seen do this so far.
  • There were a few groups of people who deviated from the status quo and hang out away from the coverings.
    • When I first arrived, a man in the circular sitting area stood by himself in front of a camera talking into a microphone, presumably doing a newscast.
    • Later an old man in rather nice clothing sat at the entrance of this sitting area, smoking.
    • A group of three men stand out in the open smoking, next to The Last Word cafe, which is interesting as the cafe was indoors and it looked as though they had gotten coffee from there. They wear nice suits and are balding and the fact that they are standing outside rather than sitting in the cafe suggests that they don’t mean to stay long. I’m right, they stay for only five minutes before going back into the library.17106068_1925525524335714_452185702_o
  • Some people come to the plaza and meet friends and acquaintances, typically intentionally but sometimes not
    • A man and a woman met briefly in the center, talking for no longer than a minute, before heading in opposite directions. It is unlikely that they intended on meeting.
    • Two men with suitcases ( one large the other travel size) walk into the plaza from the direction of King’s Cross and meet a woman who is waiting in the center. They hug, chat for a few minutes, then leave the direction they came in from.
    • Two girls walk slowly into the plaza and stop in the center, a minute later someone else walks up and they begin talking. Two start smoking and the other girl walks away a short distance, the she still talks to the other two. My guess is that she doesn’t like smoke and, given her pacing and leg lifting, she is trying to fight off the cold. Less than five minutes later they walk into the library.
    • A couple meets in front of the library steps and kiss each other hello before walking into the library.
  • Some people stop to look at various signs in the plaza
    • A man listening to music stops and reads an informational panel next to the steps of the library then walked into the building.
    • A woman enters the plaza and stops to look at a sign informing passersby of the events the library is putting on this month. She stops for just a minute before moving on.
  • Group activities broken up into percentages
    • 65% walk through without stopping
    • 25% go into the library
    • 10%  stop or come outside to hang out/take a break


Tuesday 5:35-6:35

  • My experience with the plaza, similarly to Kayla is that the plaza was mainly used as a passageway to avoid the crowded sidewalks while walking to King’s Cross/ St. Pancras.
  • When I went it was raining, so the only people outside besides those passersby were smokers.17093865_10208479847178241_976492595_n
  • There were many places I observed that seemed comfortable to sit at for short periods of time had it not been raining.  As you can see, this bench has back support, but it is in a 90 degree upright position that would not be comfortable to lay down on or sit for a long period of time.17092361_10208479847098239_1782592011_n-1

The entrance to the British Library was shorter than most times I have ever been, which I suspect is because people do not want to make the effort to go to the library when it is raining, so they decide to stay in.


Wednesday, 10:15-10:45:


This piazza is a place where a lot of people only pass by rather quickly or cross just to go to the library. However, we can see it has been carefully designed. The place is organised according to different areas (the café and its terrace, a circle bench on the right separated by short walls from the rest of the piazza and the architecture therefore “organises” the flows of people.


Main flows:
Blue: most people come from Midland Road, and either go to the library or cross the piazza to Euston Road.
Red: an important number of people also comes from Euston Rd and go either to the library or Midland Rd.

Marginal flows:
I could also observed that some people were using the pathway on the bottom right of the photo to go from one side to another. Is it shorter? Quicker? Main advantage: there are no stairs, the whole pathway is wheelchair accessible.

Very marginal flows:
Yellow: some persons use this entrance, bike riders who go to the library. Indeed, there is a bike garage at this entrance.
Pink: few people going from Euston Road to… Euston Road: why? Maybe they aim to avoid the crowd on the pavement (there are busy bus stops in this area).


But the British Library Piazza is not only a place where people only pass by.
When I arrived, the rain had just stopped, so there was no one sitting on benches.
But gradually, people came outside, sitting on benches, playing with kids, relaxing, smoking. More and more people sat on the terrace of the little café.


Who goes to the British Library?

Very different kinds of people.
I could observe several persons going to the library with a suitcase: I guess they come here to work.
Some others go to the library without any bags, or too small bags to have a computer or notebooks inside: visitors?
I could hear international tourists.
I saw a group of teenagers going out of the library at the same time: a class visiting the Library? As Kayla noted, most of people going to the library are adults. 

Where do people stop?

Map stops.png

Stars: places where people tend to stop (and sometimes sit).

People sit where there are benches or on the terrace of the café.
When they need to stop, they are also influenced by the architecture: they seem to be attracted by “obstacles” (e.g. stairs, blocks of stones).
I could observe a trend to stop only on the edges of the piazza. Nobody stopped on the middle of it.

Who stops? What do they do when they stop?

Some people were just coming to have a coffee on the terrace: they sometimes read books, newspapers, or chat with another person. Some persons eat.

The 3 or 4 persons I saw sitting on the left edge of the piazza were reading or checking their phones.

Some persons stop and wait for someone before either going somewhere else (the piazza is then just a meeting point), or go to the library together.

The people stopping just in front of the piazza or on the right edge of it mostly come from the library, they enjoy a break, have a snack, check their phone, smoke, or do some exercises.

I could observe that a mother was also there to play with her two children. They ran a little bit everywhere, enjoying the free space and the possibility to hide behind blocks of stone. It is certainly not a place as good as parks to play with children, but at least the plaza is a very well secured place and it is easy to watch after them: few entrances, not so busy, cameras everywhere, security guards.
It is also worth noting that the amount of noise is really less important than in the nearby streets, especially Euston Road which is busy and noisy.

What are the hints indicating that it is a private place (even if the library is public)?

  • Security

I saw 2 men with yellow coats who were there to watch people and check that everything was fine.
CCTV in operation.
I think the place is rather well lit at night. I could see spotlights on on the South-West entrance.

  • Safety

There is a lot of signs warning people that the piazza is slippery. When reflector become blue: it is likely to be icy and then slippery.
I could also see 2 signs warning people that climbing on the bronze sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi was dangerous. For the safety of visitors, it is also prohibited to ride a bike on the piazza.

  • Clealiness.

The place is very clean. There are bins everywhere and for every type of trash. People seem to be careful to use them and do not leave trash on the floor. They even use them for cigarettes which is not so common in London.



Tuesday, 22:11 to 22:55


  • Got to the place later than expected, even better in a way. The lit and deserted island of the plaza slowly came into view as I walked down Euston Road:
    • Immediately aware that the design of the building is meant to keep people out at night;
    • Plaza is surrounded by walls, with bright lights on them at regular intervals
  • The lights together with the high concentration of people and cars on surrounding streets (Euston Road, a street with a Pullman hotel) makes it difficult to climb in unnoticed
    • When I stood on bottom part of fence to peep inside I got looks
  • Surprisingly I did not see any cameras on the walls themselves (at the front of the compound).
    • A covered bike-parking space, to the left of the main building did have them
  • Interestingly I also saw no signs saying “keep out” or discouraging squatters, ilicit unight-time users
    • Understandably there was a sign asking vehicles to keep the gate-areas clear at all time to enable fire-brigade access – indicator that this is a library


  • Peeping through one of the gates, I saw the plaza – almost a ghost, deserted of people and darker than the areas immediately around the fence/border wall

    Thursday – 13:00 – 13.30


    • The plaza feels like a tranquil site off the street, even though it is so close – this is produced by the different level (the square is slightly lower than street level) and the more ‘natural’ materiality – particularly the hedges which act as a boundary between the road and square.
    • The plaza is used in various ways:
      • An extension of the street
      • A destination/meeting point
    • Different speeds of occupants
      • Jogger
      • Person on a mission – travelling to a destination
      • Slower pace
  • At the very back there is a semi open gallery that is not really visible from the street level as the lower parts of the fence are solid
    • This makes it a somewhat more attractive place for night-use
  • When I climbed onto the lower part and looked down, I realised that:
    • There is more than 1 security camera
    • The lighting is kept bright to make any night-user visible
  • Behind this part and the main building of the library there is a very bizzare stretfh of land that is:
    • Not lit
    • Instead of fence, there is barbed wire
  • At this point I headed back to the main entrance, since there were some scary people around and it started to rain
  • Ro9und the main entrance there were various empty food containers and cans strewn around suggesting that possible there were squatters in this area 
  • However there was also a guards’ booth with a working TV showing ads of the library
    • In general I couldn’t help questioning the amount of electricity they spent on lights, CCTV and the promotional TV

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