The original court was designed to be a garden, but in the 1850s the Reading Room and a number of bookstacks were built in the courtyard to house the library department of the Museum and the space was lost. It wasn't until 1997, when the Museum’s library department was relocated to the new British Library on Euston Road that the opportunity arose to re-develop the court.
The court now houses ticket desks, gift shops, a bar and cafe and a lot of very pleasant space for milling around. On late openings, bands sometimes play and there are also twelve sculptures from the Museum collection, spotted around, including one of King Ashurnasirpal II or Assyria, two obelisks of the Egyptian King Nectanebo II and a pair of Chinese guardian figures.
The tessellated glass roof was designed by Buro Happold, and is made up of 1,656 pairs of glass windowpanes. The whole court project cost £100 million and was supported by grants from the Millennium Commission and the Heritage Lottery Fund. For more on the Great Court, see here.