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London's British Museum

A Perfect Glass Ceiling
With the reopening of the public courtyard at the British Museum, architect Norman Foster has transformed the museum's core into Europe's largest covered square, placing it beneath an expanse of undulating glass and steel. The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, dedicated by the British monarch in December, shelters galleries, museum shops, a restaurant, two cafés, and, at its center, the monumental Reading Room. Lord Foster has restored that glorious rotunda — with its gilded, domed chamber where Karl Marx worked on Das Kapital — to its Victorian splendor, and covered the drumlike exterior in dazzling limestone. A pair of swirling staircases lead to a mezzanine overlooking the museum's restored Greek Revival façades. The Reading Room is open to the public for the first time ever, and the two-acre courtyard can be visited seven days a week (some nights till 11), even after the galleries containing the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone have closed, allowing visitors and residents alike to enjoy the grand, new public space in the heart of London. British Museum, Great Russell St.; 44-207/323-8000.

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