Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology
The Ashmolean opened in 1683 as the world’s first public museum. It originated with a core group of natural history specimens that belonged to father-and-son gardeners, both named John Tradescant, who gave them to the antiquarian Elias Ashmole, who in turn presented the collection to the university in 1677.
London-based American architect Rick Mather won the competition to bring the Ashmolean into the 21st century. He removed makeshift additions, built in the late 19th century as temporary exhibition spaces, that were gloomy as well as searingly hot in summer and freezing in winter. By replacing these with an atrium crisscrossed by bridges that link the new galleries and fuse the six-floor extension to the handsome 1845 Neoclassical structure by Charles Cockerell, Mather has magically suffused the whole place with natural light. Architectural miracles like this don’t come cheap: the renovation cost $99 million. Mather restored Cockerell’s grand entrance, doubled the display space, and capped it with a rooftop restaurant and terrace that has already become a popular meeting place for town and gown. A couple of Oxford lads, Ben and Hugo Warner, operate the Ashmolean Dining Room; they’ve got a terrific contemporary English menu, a wine list from around the world, and sweeping views of the city.