Slipped through

Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007)

British Library

Designer: Paolozzi, Sir Eduardo (1924-2005); Wilson, Sir Colin St John (1922-2007)
Copyright: John Donat/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1996)

The son of a clergyman and bishop, Wilson studied architecture at Cambridge before the Second World War. After serving in the war, Wilson was demobilised in 1946 and returned to London to complete his architectural studies with Professor Albert Richardson at the Bartlett School of Architecture.


After graduation, Wilson worked for Leslie Martin in the architects department of the London County Council alongside James Stirling and Alison and Peter Smithson. In 1956, Wilson took up a post to teach architecture at Cambridge but retired in 1969 to concentrate on his architectural practice.


Wilson collaborated with Martin on several buildings at Cambridge, including Harvey Court at Gonville and Caius College. His best known work, however, is the British Library in London, begun in 1962 and completed in 1997 after 35 years of problems, such as available finance, political intrigue and design issues. Wilson himself referred to the project as a '30 year war'. Part of the problem may have arisen from the location of the new building. Originally it was to have been just south (and therefore fairly local) to the British Museum in Bloomsbury, but this was then changed to a site adjacent to St Pancras station.


Wilson returned to Cambridge as Professor of Architecture in 1975 and remained a Fellow there until his death. His work, after the British Library, includes the new wing of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (2006), and an extension to the British Library, London (2007).


Wilson was nominated six times for the Royal Gold Medal.