WHEN the two Oxford Universities get their architecture right the result is magical.

They have sometimes got it wrong.

Disasters lurk around the corners in each campus of Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University. But things are looking up. In the last week they’ve opened two gems.

Out of a 1930s Stalinist, turn-yourback- on-your-neighbour building, Oxford University has created in Broad Street a library space for everyone – students, tourists and townspeople. Everything about it says: “Come in. This space is for you.”

Libraries have changed. Instead of “please be quiet!” you are more likely to hear “Would you prefer extra chocolate on your cappuccino?”

Oxford Mail:

After an £80m makeover the Weston Library has opened its doors. Yes, it still houses rare manuscripts, music and maps dating from the third century BC with the complete works of Shakespeare, Jane Austen’s manuscripts and four copies of Magna Carta that are 800 years old.

The entrances lead into a vast open space, almost a market place of the mind where the Bodleian can put its wares on display.

Some treasures remained hidden because there was never the space to unveil them. Now we have a series of small temporary displays.

The great walls allow for a gigantic tapestry map, the Sheldon Tapestry, to unfurl its secrets and vivid colours which form an unrivalled representation of the Midland counties of England, including Oxfordshire, at the start of modern cartography around the time of the Spanish Armada. The library has not been able to display all the pieces of this tapestry before simply because there was no space.

From the opening this week until September, the inaugural exhibition called Marks of Genius features Shakespeare’s First Folio and Newton’s great philosophical treatise.

But like so much of Oxford where there is usually more than meets the eye, the new Weston Library of the Bodleian has its secrets.

I was lucky to be offered the grand tour behind the scenes where you have to keep your voice down and tip-toe around so you don’t disturb the scholars.

The high point was the rooftop terrace. After some fiddling for keys and the clank of the lock, a door to the walkway opened and the dreaming spires of Oxford seemed to wake up. We were standing in the middle of this magnificent maze and it felt like we could almost reach out and stroke their little points.

The Sheldonian Theatre was straight ahead with the Radcliffe Camera and Divinity School directly behind that. Tom Tower stood out in the distance at Christ Church. St Mary the Virgin spire and Magdalen Tower were at the edges of the vista and Trinity and Balliol colleges were next door.

It was almost an attack on the eyes but this unexpected opportunity raised some question: whose Oxford is this anyway? Will the people who work in the Cowley car plant ever see this?

Possibly, because the German ambassador takes a keen interest in the BMW plant and could arrange for that.

But what about the poorer relations of Oxford who don’t have an ambassador or who aren’t journalists or Friends of the Bodleian? Will they ever see this extraordinary view? I hope so.

The second gem is the John Henry Brookes Building. At the inauguration last Friday, former Oxford Brookes University Chancellor Baroness Helena Kennedy was standing under a towering artwork of hundreds of blue glass shapes, each hung separately from the ceiling.

She used the art to sum up the building. “I’ve discovered the name of this glass installation is ‘Resounding’. We often use that word in association with excellence; and that is exactly what this building is – a resounding success.”

Even though the former vicechancellor Janet Beer said she and her senior management team had serious reservations about whether anyone would use the space and whether it would become a white elephant, it was a success from the minute the doors opened.

Hordes of students and Headington residents swarmed in and colonised the area. At certain times of the day it’s hard to move because of all the schoolchildren who gather.

The architects told me they wanted to create a beating heart for the campus and this area throbs with activity.

They also created corridors that are generous, and wide meeting places so people can stop and talk to each other about what happened in the pub last night or what’s happening in Gaza or on their course.

The rewards for this effort have come rolling in with four Royal Institute of British Architect (RIBA) awards, including regional Sustainability Award and national Award for Building of the Year.

The judges caught the spirit of the place: “The project is simply brilliant.

The new elevated entrance is highly engaging, with the careful selection of complementary materials and high quality, stimulating finishes resulting in generous and well-used public areas.

“A new public route has a freeflowing, comfortable atmosphere with plenty of coffee shops, hang-out areas: It almost feels like a street.

“The space made us wish we could go back to university again.”