Built to house an important art collection, the Ruskin Library takes the form of a building within a building. Designed by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard.
It was suggested the new building to house the Whitehouse Collection should be situated on Lancaster University’s campus as it was close to Brantwood, where both Ruskin and Whitehouse had lived. The university's status as a leading centre for nineteenth century studies was another factor in the decision. The collection founded by John Howard Whitehouse (1873-1955) comprises 1,700 works of art by Ruskin and his circle, Ruskin's exhaustive diaries, 8,000 of his letters, 200 manuscripts, 3,500 books and 1,000 original photographs (including early daguerreotypes).
Initially the design of the building attracted comment in the national press. It was described by the architect, Richard MacCormac as standing "on a plateau of wavy meadow grass like an island surrounded by water, a metaphor for Ruskin's Venice.
The materials recall Ruskin's fascination with Venetian and Tuscan materials and construction". In response it was described by a critic as "Byzantine in colour, Gothic in mood" while a different commentator said it had brought "the city of the gondolas to the country of the black puddings". The Ruskin Library was one of the first recipients of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which provided over two thirds of the overall cost of the building