London History Day 2018

On Thursday 31 May 2018, more than 70 of London’s museums, galleries and cultural spaces opened their doors to reveal special behind the scenes tours, rarely seen exhibits and one off events, celebrating the capital’s unique identity.

London History Day: The London that might have been

To celebrate London History Day, we’ve delved into the RIBA Collections to explore alternative proposals for London buildings through history.

You can discover more about these schemes and plenty more through the RIBApix image library, our online resource of more than 95,000 drawings and photographs from the RIBA Collections.

Join the conversation with #LondonHistoryDay and #RIBACollections.

1983 model for the National Gallery Extension by Ahrends Burton & Koralek

Perhaps one of the most memorable architectural debates in recent history centered around the design for the National Gallery’s extension, opened as the Sainsbury Wing in 1991 and completed to designs by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. A 1982 design competition prompted proposals from high-profile architects including Richard Rogers and R. Seifert & Partners – but the winning entry was this High-Tech scheme by Ahrends Burton Koralek. This design became a battle-ground for debate between architectural neo-modernists and traditionalists, among them Prince Charles, who slammed the proposal in a speech at the RIBA. Ahrends Burton Koralek’s scheme was denied planning permission in 1984, and replaced with the Venturi Scott Brown & Associates design that now defines the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square.

Top: 1983 model for the National Gallery Extension by Ahrends Burton & Koralek, courtesy RIBA Collections, and below: The Sainsbury Wingphotographed in 1998, as built to the designs of Venturi Scott Brown & Associates, courtesy Janet Hall / RIBA Collections

1981 competition sketch for additional office and library space for the RIBA

This tongue-in-cheek competition sketch for an extension to our own headquarters building at 66 Portland Place proposes a ‘temple’ structure intended to house the RIBA President as well as a members’ swimming pool, bandstand for events and a radio mast to give the President direct access to the worldwide media.

Top: 1981 competition sketch for the RIBA by an unknown architect, courtesy RIBA Collections, and below: The RIBA headquarters at 66 Portland Place, designed by George Grey Wornum, as it looks today

1960 competition design for a shopping centre at the Elephant & Castle by ErnöGoldfinger

Despite this shopping centre design never being realised, Ernö Goldfinger nevertheless made his mark on Elephant & Castle with his design for the government office block Alexander Fleming House, now a residential tower known as Metro Central Heights. The selected shopping centre design by Boissevain & Osmond was the first covered shopping centre in Europe when it opened in 1965. Today the shopping centre is earmarked for demolition, the central point in a London neighbourhood undergoing huge change.

Top: 1960 Ernö Goldfinger unexecuted competition design for Elephant and Castle, courtesy RIBA Collections, and bellow: 1965 Bill Toomey photographof Boissevain & Osmond’s executed design, courtesy RIBA Collections

1956 early scheme for the Barbican Estate by Chamberlin Powell & Bon

Chamberlin Powell & Bon’s design for the Barbican Estate went through several iterations. The original 1954 brief was smaller in scale than the complex eventually built, and comprised housing for 5,000 residents. Chamberlin Powell & Bon responded by proposing a ring of tall office blocks with clusters of dwellings arranged around a series of courtyards. This drawing shows the Barbican concept developing while revealing very different elevations to those executed.

Top: 1956 Chamberlin Powell & Bon early drawing for the Barbican Estate, courtesy RIBA Collections, and Below: The Barbican Estate as built, photographed in 2017, courtesy Danilo Leonardi / RIBA Collections

1950 unexecuted design for the Festival of Britain exhibition complex, South Bank, by Sir Misha Black

Although this design for a large riverside structure in the form of a giant glazed spiral ramp was never realised, Sir Misha Black was a key figure in the 1951 Festival of Britain complex, designing the Regatta Restaurant that neighboured the main ‘Dome of Discovery’ building by Ralph Tubbs. The architectural legacy of the Festival of Britain survives in the form of the London County Council Architects’ Department’s Royal Festival Hall.

Top: 1950 Sir Misha Black unexecuted design for the Festival of Britain, courtesy RIBA Collections, and Below: 2008 photograph of the Royal Festival Hall, courtesy Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA Collections

1942 Sir Giles Gilbert Scott studies for Bankside Power Station

This early study for Bankside Power Station (now Tate Modern) is subtly – but importantly – different from the final building. The drawing shows two chimneys, one of which was later scrapped in order to preserve views of St Paul’s Cathedral. The remaining chimney was also reduced in height. Original plans for Bankside Power station had envisaged a coal power station, but this was later switched to oil, which could be stored in underground tanks and therefore removed the need for larger storage above ground.

Top: 1942 Sir Giles Gilbert Scott studies for Bankside Power Station, courtesy RIBA Collections, and Below: 1995 photograph of Bankside Power Station (now Tate Modern), courtesy Janet Hall/ RIBA Collections

1925 photograph of a plaster model of a proposed tower to be built over Selfridges department store, by Sir John Burnet & Partners

After Selfridges department store opened in 1909, building works continued to be carried out, with the main entrance not complete until 1928. Apparently not content with a building that defied previous limitations of construction (it was one of London’s earliest examples of steel cage frame construction, supporting a frontage made more of glass than stone or iron works), Harry Gordon Selfridge had ambitions – never realised – to construct an immense tower above the main building, and to excavate an underground tunnel linking the store directly with Bond Street Underground Station (to be renamed Selfridges). This model shows one of the tower proposals, still dwarfed in scale by Philip Tilden’s scheme.

Top: 1925 model for a proposed tower over Selfridges by Sir John Burnet & Partners, courtesy RIBA Collections, and Below: Selfridges photographedshortly after completion (without tower) in 1929, courtesy RIBA Collections

1867 Edward Middleton Barry design for the proposed National Gallery

Remember the furore over plans for the National Gallery extension in the 1980s? It wasn’t the first time designs for the National Gallery had been scuppered. This proposal by Edward Middleton Barry won an 1866 design competition for a complete rebuilding of the National Gallery, but its domed structure was denounced by critics as “a strong plagiarism on St Paul’s Cathedral”. Barry’s contribution was scaled back to an extension to the existing building, which had been designed by William Wilkins. Perhaps adding insult to injury, Barry had been similarly passed over only a year earlier in a competition for the Royal Courts of Justice, the commission for which was awarded to George Edmund Street despite the judges having recommended Barry’s design.

Top: 1867 Edward Middleton Barry proposal for the National Gallery, courtesy RIBA Collections, and Below: 2007 photograph of William Wilkins’ National Gallery, courtesy Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA Collections

1840 Charles Barry designs for the clock tower, Houses of Parliament

London History Day is celebrated on the anniversary of when ‘Big Ben’ first started keeping time (31 May 1859) – so it would be remiss of us not to include an alternative proposal for London’s best-known clock tower. Charles Barry’s designs for the reconstruction of the Houses of Parliament did not originally include a clock tower – he was only asked to include it later. This preliminary study, while ‘ Gothic Revival’ in style, has the addition of a surmounting turret in a ‘Moorish’ style. The final tower design was eventually built in 1859, being renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 but more commonly referred to as Big Ben after the largest of its five bells.

Left: 1840 Charles Barry designs for the clock tower, Houses of Parliament, courtesy RIBA Collections, and right: ‘Big Ben’ photographed in 1994, courtesy Joe Low/ RIBA Collections

1830 Lewis Nockalls Cottingham competition design for the New Houses of Parliament

Following the Great Fire of 1834 a competition was set up to design the new Houses of Parliament, and in just four months, 1,400 drawings by 97 entrants had been submitted. The designs ranged from a vast neoclassical ‘Senate House’ in St James’ Park by Joseph Gandy, to this Gothic Revival design by Lewis Nockalls Cottingham. The Gothic style was actually specified by the judges, as the classical architectural style was associated with the French Revolution and Republicanism. Ironically, the winning neo-Gothic design by Charles Barry was heavily criticised by his colleague Augustus Pugin as ‘All Grecian, sir; Tudor details on a classic body.’

Top: 1830 Lewis Nockalls Cottingham design for the Houses of Parliament, courtesy RIBA Collections, and Below: 1860 print of Charles Barry’s winning design, courtesy RIBA Collections

Discover more unrealised schemes in our special collection of images onRIBApix, RIBA’s image library.

Yale University Summer Internship 2017

The Yale Bulldog intern scheme was established in 2005 in collaboration with Yale University in Connecticut. The scheme normally admits two interns for two months in the summer – one to work at 66 Portland Place working with Library Education department and one at the Drawings & Archives collection held in RIBA’s architectural partnership with the V&A.

This summer Alex Swanson joined members of the RIBA curatorial team and this is his story…

My Experience at the British Architectural Library

This summer I’ve had the privilege of cataloguing the manuscripts of the Barbican Redevelopment, part of the papers of the architectural practice Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Over the course of eight weeks I audited, rehoused, consolidated, and catalogued all manuscripts pertaining to the Barbican, including reports and statements, office archives and memoranda, correspondences, and related publications. I spent my first few days researching the Barbican, placing it in its historical context and understanding the development as an icon of post-war Modernism. This entailed office reading and a visit to the British Architectural Library at RIBA Portland Place.

After research, I began auditing the archive. For the first three weeks of the internship I went through each box—mostly at the Drawings & Archives Collection (DAC) offices in the V&A but occasionally at the RIBA out store in Fulham—and noted what was inside. The archive was initially about fifteen boxes. Auditing required taking most manuscripts out of their original housing and placing them in acid-free folders. Many boxes contained non-Barbican material, drawings, and photographs. Once I got all the materials separated, the final Barbican manuscript archive was nine boxes, which I had tried to organize into related materials in chronological order.

The next step was to enter each item into the RIBA catalogue. Over the course of the next four weeks I created 176 separate entries, each with their own subject headings and reference numbers to aid research. At the same time, I made a rough list of all duplicate manuscripts and separated drawings and photographs to be separately catalogued. To finish, I went through all entries to give call numbers and do a final check.

Working at RIBA has not been all office time, however. The DAC offices in the V&A offer easy access to a world-class museum. Some mornings I would spend in the permanent galleries or special exhibitions, either as a work break or a as bit of personal research. I also had tours of the store and study rooms at the DAC, the British Architectural Library, and RIBA’s conservation studios at the V&A, which were particularly interesting because I could compare research methods of art history in the US (my current degree) to those of British architecture. Yet it was ultimately archival experience that I wanted to gain from this internship, and I certainly have. At Yale we are often encouraged to do archival research, but until now I had no experience working from the other end designing catalogues that will hopefully aid a diverse range of researchers in the future. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and for the amount of respect and trust I have received from RIBA to independently conduct this project.

Alex Swanson, the 2017 Yale Bulldog Intern


Review of Medieval Castles to Modern Fantasies

Firmly back in London, we want to recap on a terrific journey with Dr Jonathan Foyle for his lecture tour, ‘Make thy castles high and fair’:  Medieval Castles to Modern Fantasies, in partnership with the Royal Oak Foundation and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It was wonderful to reconvene with friends in New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Boston and the reception in each city was so welcoming that we look forward to coming back soon!

A huge thanks also to Jonathan for his fascinating lectures on the philosophy and concept of castles.

Using images from the Royal Institute of British Architects’ extensive collection, Dr Foyle delivered a thought-provoking and amusing romp on the shifting associations in castle design and purpose over the last thousand years. Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, Bodiam Castle, Lincoln Cathedral, Hampton Court, Tattersall castle through to a modern rental house in Nebraska, helped to decode symbols and debunking myths – such as the folklore that hot oil was poured down from the battlements on enemy combatants at the castle gates (it was, in fact, powdered lye) meant that we will truly never be able to look at castles the same way again.

Please see below for a few highlights from this wonderful trip…

Big Edit - Review of Dr Jonathan Foyle Lecture Tour April 2017

Yale University Summer Internship 2016

The Yale Bulldog intern scheme was established in 2005 in collaboration with Yale University in Connecticut. The scheme normally admits two interns for two months in the summer – one to work at 66 Portland Place working with Library Education department and one at the Drawings & Archives collection held in RIBA’s architectural partnership with the V&A.

This summer Anna Rose Canzano joined members of the RIBA curatorial team and this is her story…

My Experience at the British Architectural Library

My name is Anna Rose Canzano and I am a junior majoring in architecture at Yale University. This summer I had the opportunity to join the RIBA Drawings and Archives Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum for two months as an intern. My main project was to organize, catalogue, and rehouse the drawings for the Barbican Estate, an important example of post-war British urban planning designed by Chamberlin Powell & Bon. Because I was working with such an extensive collection of drawings on one specific architectural project, I began by researching the Barbican at the British Architectural Library itself. I then sorted through the portfolios of drawings and came up with a system to organize them based on the type of drawing and the content of the drawing; i.e. whether it depicted Barbican housing, or the Barbican Arts Centre theater, concert hall or art gallery. The drawings ranged from early sketches from the 1950s to ones from nearly 20 years later, and the process of going through the drawings offered me important insight to the design process. With my background in design and my experience with architectural drawings, the materials that I worked with on a daily basis constantly fascinated me, from technical drawings to painted perspective visualizations.

During my internship, I gained knowledge of archival practices, and the process of architectural research. I also was exposed to museum practices and curatorial work. I found the project extremely rewarding because during my time in London I was able to visit the Barbican in person.  This gave me a better understanding of the project, and it also contributed to my own developing academic interest in urban studies, specifically post-war housing. Additionally, the internship introduced me to alternative career paths that include a passion for architecture, even if one is not an architect. I have gained a stronger historical interest in architecture, which I will continue to explore through my academic choices. I am proud to have done valuable work in the collection, and now researchers can now access materials previously not known to the public.

Selection of drawings and visuals for the Barbican Arts Centre & Estate, London, designed by Chamberlin Powell & Bon © RIBA Collections
Selection of sketches of furniture designs by Robin Day, Barbican Arts Centre, London © RIBA Collections

RIBA appoints new Chief Executive

Royal Institute of British Architects Press Release 

For immediate release: 19 September 2016

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) appoints new Chief Executive


Alan Vallance has been appointed Chief Executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) following a competitive recruitment process.

Alan Vallance has a background in finance, consulting, strategic planning and general management in Europe and Australasia. He joined the RIBA in September 2015 as Interim Director of Finance and Operations and has been interim Chief Executive since February 2016.  Prior to joining the RIBA Alan spent three years as Chief Operating Officer at the Law Society, the membership and regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales.

RIBA President Jane Duncan said:

“I am delighted that Alan Vallance has been appointed as Chief Executive of the RIBA. We had a large and strong field of applicants and the interview panel were unanimous in concluding that Alan is the right person to lead the RIBA as we deliver our 5 year strategy.  As Interim Chief Executive since February this year, Alan has demonstrated his energy, drive and commitment to strengthening the RIBA’s voice and impact as a global professional membership body driving excellence in architecture.’

Alan Vallance said:

“Architects are creative, visionary and collaborative professionals who ensure that our built environment serves and strengthens communities now and in the future. It is a privilege to have been appointed to the role of Chief Executive of the RIBA. I look forward to working with the Board and Council, the staff team and members in the UK and globally to deliver the RIBA’s five year strategic plan and to further strengthen the RIBA’s offer to current and future members.”



  1. For further press information contact Howard Crosskey in the RIBA Press Office 020 7307 3726
  2. An image of Alan Vallance can be downloaded here:
  3. Alan tweets at @Alan_Vallance
  4. Alan Vallance trained as a chartered accountant and has a background in finance, consulting, strategic planning and general management across a wide variety of roles in Europe and Australasia. Prior to joining RIBA in September 2015 as Interim Director of Finance & Operations, Alan spent three years as Chief Operating Officer at the Law Society, the membership and regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales. Between 2009 and 2011 Alan was the Chief Operating Officer of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the national weather agency, based in Melbourne, Australia. As part of his responsibilities, Alan spent considerable time at the United Nations in Geneva participating and leading Australian Delegations at the World Meteorological Organisation. Alan is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia and New Zealand and the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He obtained a BA (Hons) in Economics at the University of York.
  5. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is a global professional membership body that serves its members and society in order to deliver better buildings and places, stronger communities and a sustainable environment. Follow us on Twitter for regular RIBA updates

Yale University Summer Internship 2015

The Yale Bulldog intern scheme was established in 2005 in collaboration with Yale University in Connecticut. The scheme normally admits two interns for two months in the summer – one to work at 66 Portland Place working with Library Education department and one at the Drawings & Archives collection held in RIBA’s architectural partnership with the V&A.

This summer Steven Roets joined members of the RIBA curatorial team and this is his story….

My Experience at the British Architectural Library

My name is Steven Roets and I am a junior at Yale University double-majoring in Art and Ethics, Politics, and Economics.  This past summer I had the pleasure of working as a Curatorial Intern with RIBA through the Yale British Bulldogs Internship Program. I was based at the Victoria and Albert Museum with the Drawings and Archives Collection.

In my two months with RIBA I organized, housed, and catalogued three architectural archives: the Erith and Terry Manuscript Collection, the Alan Lee Mortimer Drawing Collection, and the Adrian Gale Drawing Collection.  The largest of the three, the Erith and Terry Manuscript Collection, was composed of 175 manuscript boxes.  Without existing documentation I had to decipher how former portions of the collection had been catalogued and organized and then plan how to integrate all three portions of the collection into one cohesive archive.  I devised a system to bring all of these pieces together which respected the provenance of the archival material while also accounting for its type, individual projects, and the architects associated with each project.   I then created a guide to the entire archive describing its organization, contents, scope, and significance, which allows easy and informed access to the collection.  The collection of Mortimer drawings consisted of plans and elevations for a variety of buildings in Uttar Pradesh, India, including significant government and educational facilities.  Gale’s drawings came mainly from his work in the United States, specifically his work in the office of Mies Van der Rohe.  My experience with these drawings was especially rewarding, as they included plans for Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  These last two collections were fully organized by project, catalogued, and rehoused for improved accessibility.

Aside from my three main projects, I also rearranged and consolidated the storage of two other collections and improved the cataloguing information for the letters of Sir Herbert Baker.  Finally, I assisted with collection management and transportation – including work at the collection out-store, as well as performing routine office duties. Working in an archival collection gave me a better understanding of museum and curatorial work. The archive in particular was a great venue for me to use my organizational skills in thinking about the intertwined nature of manuscript materials and how a researcher needs to use and access a collection. Looking back on my entire experience I really began to realize how interconnected our societies have become. While the collection’s items often pertained to British architecture, the collection contained objects from all around the world. These items have been loaned to organizations in many different countries for various exhibitions, creating both personal and institutional connections spanning thousands of miles. British architecture has a truly global scope and plays an integral role in the built landscape worldwide.  Through its work, the Drawings and Archives Collection ensures that a vast wealth of architectural history and documentation is easily accessible to researchers and the general public, thus promoting conversations about architecture’s significance and enabling further inquiry.  I am proud to have worked towards these two goals during my time at the RIBA.

An example of the Adrian Gale drawings that Steven helped catalogue. This image is for the 1986 renovations which Gale assisted with for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob at Dunbar, Pennsylvania (1953).



AFBAL Board Chairman Appointed

The American Friends of the British Architectural Library are delighted to announce that Theodore R. Gamble, Jr. has taken up the role of Chair of the Board as of October 2015.

His appointment has been greeted with enthusiasm and appreciation and will galvanize our mission to support one of the world’s greatest architectural collections in the world.

Theodore R. Gamble, Jr.
Theodore R. Gamble, Jr.

RIBA Stirling Prize 2015

Burntwood School, a large comprehensive girls’ school in Wandsworth, London by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM), won the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize 2015 for the UK’s best new building.

The sell-out event took place at RIBA’s HQ with a sparkling and star-studded evening hosted by Lauren Laverne on October 15th. Now in its 20th year, the RIBA Stirling Prize, sponsored by Almacantar, is the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize.

AHMM’s transformation of Burntwood School reimagines a 1950’s modernist secondary school campus for 2000 girls and 200 staff. The architects created six new faculty buildings and two large cultural buildings linking original buildings by renowned 1950s and1960s architect Sir Leslie Martin. Every building is full of light and air with double height spaces at the end of each corridor to increase natural daylight and create well-framed views. It offers a range of teaching spaces from conventional classrooms to interactive open spaces. Already a very sculptural building, AHMM worked closely with an artist to use large, colourful murals throughout the buildings – cleverly combining signposting with modern art.

Please click the links below to see the BBC videos for Burntwood School and the 5 other shortlisted buildings…

Burntwood School

Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in Lanarkshire

The Whitworth, University of Manchester

Neo Bankside

University of Greenwich, Stockwell Street Building

Darbishire Place, Peabody Housing


Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected Exhibition Opens

The Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected exhibition has opened to acclaim and runs from 9 September to 9 January 2016.

From the US Capitol to a 21st century Somerset cowshed and a postmodern Canadian skiing lodge, ‘Palladian Design: The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected’ introduces Andrea Palladio’s design principles and explores how they have been interpreted, copied and re-imagined across time and continents from his death in 1580 right up to the present day.

Designed by Caruso St John, this exhibition explores how British architects such as Inigo Jones and Lord Burlington turned Palladianism into a national style and how 20th and 21st century architects have reinterpreted Palladio’s design principles for contemporary use in unexpected ways.

The exhibition includes works by Palladio never previously exhibited and other original drawings from the RIBA Collections by some of the UK’s most celebrated architects, including Colen Campbell, William Kent and Edwin Lutyens.

These are displayed alongside works by international modern and contemporary architects Erik Gunnar Asplund, Aldo Rossi, George Saumarez-Smith, John Penn, Stephen Taylor and Peter Märkli.

Alongside drawings and photographs, the shows features impressive models of St Martin-in-the-Fields by James Gibb from RIBA’s Collection and the unbuilt Villa Ordos in Mongolia by Belgian practice OFFICE that inverts Palladio’s Villa Rotonda.

A newly commissioned film juxtaposes the interior of Brick House by Caruso St John with Palladio’s Villa Caldogno in Vizenca, exploring the concept of ‘abstract Palladiansim’.

The buildings featured may conform to, or challenge, ideas about Palladian architecture. Either way, their inclusion is intended to provoke debate and raise questions about the authenticity of a form of architecture increasingly removed from its original time and place.

We are so proud that Palladian Design is generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, The Headley Trust and the American Friends of the British Architectural Library.

Cowshed in Somerset by Stephen Taylor Architects (c) David Grandorge
Cowshed in Somerset by Stephen Taylor Architects (c) David Grandorge

AFBAL supports Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and the Unexpected

We are thrilled to announce AFBAL’s support of Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and the Unexpected which opens on September 9th in The Architecture Gallery at 66 Portland Place, London.

It is a fitting and lasting tribute to AFBAL’s mission to support this exhibition following Charles Hind’s recent US lecture tour, Palladianism: Four Centuries of Style as well as the US Palladio exhibition tour in 2010.

The RIBA Collections contain over 350 drawings and sketches by Andrea Palladio; the world’s largest assemblage of his drawings — a staggering 85% of all those in existence.

The exhibition is designed by architects Caruso St John and takes its inspiration from the interior of Palladio’s villas and the way that his Four Books of Architecture have been used by generations of architects. The palette will reference Villa Caldogno’s frescos. Palladian Design is generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, The Headley Trust and the American Friends of the British Architectural Library.

Please go to for more information.