Revealing the RIBA Collections

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has collected architecture for almost 200 years. Take a glimpse into the collection of over 4 million objects.

By Royal Institute of British Architects

The RIBA's headquarters at 66 Portland Place (1934) by Photographer: Dell & WainwrightRoyal Institute of British Architects

About RIBA

RIBA champions and supports architects around the world. Established almost 200 years ago, it aims to deliver better buildings and places, stronger communities and a sustainable environment. 

Alongside work in policy, education, practice and public engagement, RIBA cares for one of the world's largest and most significant architectural collections. 

Mies van der Rohe + James Stirling: Circling the Square (2017)Royal Institute of British Architects

The collection spans books, drawings, photographs, models, artefacts, archives, portraits, medals, coins and audiovisual material. They are the foundation of RIBA's critically acclaimed survey shows and new architect commissions displayed at the galleries in London and Liverpool and loaned to museums around the world.

Royal Architectural Museum (1870) by Photographer: Bedford Lemere & Co.Royal Institute of British Architects

1834: The origins of RIBA's Collections

RIBA has acquired the work of architects ever since its foundation in 1834. The artefacts were a valuable resource to instruct students and inspire architects, and RIBA members were encouraged to donate to and help grow the collection. 

No known images of the collection at this time survive, but this photograph of the Royal Architectural Museum in 1870 gives an idea of the kind of material it contained: not only drawings and manuscripts, but also plaster casts and architectural fragments from which students could copy.

Library of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 9 Conduit Street, London (1934) by Artist: Hanslip FletcherRoyal Institute of British Architects

1860: A new home

Over the next few decades the collection grew so rapidly that RIBA was forced to move premises, first in 1845 and then again in 1860 when the Institute set up shop at 9 Conduit Street in London.  

Architects Charles Gray and James Edmeston remodelled the interior of an existing townhouse designed by James Wyatt, creating a dedicated library space where members could consult the collections. 

Drawing for the RIBA Library at 66 Portland Place (1934) by Artist: Miriam WornumRoyal Institute of British Architects

1934: A new HQ

In 1934 RIBA moved again. This time to the present headquarters at 66 Portland Place. This drawing by the textile and interior designer Miriam Wornum shows the specially-designed library, which featured heated bookcases and bespoke lighting.

The RIBA Library at 66 Portland Place (2019) by Photographer: Rachel MannsRoyal Institute of British Architects

The library remains largely unchanged today. It is open to everyone and still holds the majority of RIBA's huge range of books, including its unrivalled collection of rare books. Centred around almost 5,000 volumes published between 1478 and 1840, it includes early editions of Vitruvius, Alberti, Palladio, and Piranesi.

The V&A + RIBA Architecture Gallery (2004) by Photographer: Morley von SternbergRoyal Institute of British Architects

2004: The V&A+RIBA Partnership

Another study room was added in 2004 when RIBA partnered with the Victoria & Albert Museum to host the drawings and archive material at the V&A in South Kensington. Part of the collection is on permanent display here alongside small temporary exhibitions, co-curated by the V&A and RIBA. 

Reconstruction of the Baths of Agrippa (1560) by Artist: Andrea PalladioRoyal Institute of British Architects

RIBA are custodians to almost one million architectural drawings, from sketches and preliminary designs to presentation and technical drawings. These are some of the most popular and famous items, such as this drawing by Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.

Preliminary studies for the Big Ben clock tower, Houses of Parliament, Palace of Westminster, London (1840) by Artist: Sir Charles BarryRoyal Institute of British Architects

However, the collection is particularly strong in British architecture, spanning works from Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren to Ernö Goldfinger, Denys Lasdun and Sir Charles Barry, whose drawing for the 'Big Ben' clocktower of the Houses of Parliament is shown here.

Louvre, Paris: the north wing of the New Louvre under construction (1849) by Photographer: Edouard-Denis BaldusRoyal Institute of British Architects

RIBA’s photographic collection comprises around 1.5 million images from the earliest days of photography to the present day. It offers an important record of architecture and society, such as photographs of the Louvre, Paris, under construction in the 1840s, and work by some of the most significant architectural photographers of the 20th century: Tony-Ray Jones, John Donat, Edwin Smith, Monica Pidgeon, Edith Tudor Hart and László Moholy-Nagy.

Viceroy's House, New Delhi: sketch of a nursery chandelier (1929) by Architect: Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944)Royal Institute of British Architects

Manuscripts, including membership nomination papers, practice documents and architects' letters, offer a candid glimpse into the history of the profession. For example, the collections contain around 6,000 letters between British architect Edwin Lutyens and his wife, Lady Emily.

They spent much of their marriage apart, and their prolific correspondence presents a trove of information about Lutyens' work for the British Raj in New Delhi. Many contain quick sketches, such as this one for a chandelier in the nursery of the Viceroy's House.

Drawing for Taichung Metropolitan Opera House (2006) by Architect: Toyo Ito (1941-)Royal Institute of British Architects

Collecting now

RIBA has never stopped collecting. The Institute's exhibitions and awards programmes present opportunities to acquire contemporary material, both British and international, while we continue to grow and supplement our body of historic material. 

Recipients of the Royal Gold Medal, awarded annually for a significant contribution to architecture, are invited to donate work to the collections. Japanese recipient Toyo Ito gifted this drawing for Taichung Metropolitan Opera House in 2006. 

Boadicea House (BOAC computer building), Heathrow Airport, London (1968) by Photographer: Ian BerryRoyal Institute of British Architects

Material in the RIBA Collections doesn't only represent traditional media types. As new technologies and techniques have evolved, the resource of audio-visual and born-digital material has expanded, including audio recordings of events and lectures dating back several decades. 

Charles and Ray Eames (1950) by Photographer: Sam LambertRoyal Institute of British Architects

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In this audio recording, former RIBA President Gordon Graham awards the Royal Gold Medal to American design partnership, the Eames Office, in 1979. It was the first time a woman, Ray Eames, was presented with the medal. 

The forecourt of the British Library (1998) by Photographer: Janet HallRoyal Institute of British Architects

RIBA's collections constantly reveal new insights and fascinating stories. Curators are currently cataloguing the archive of significant post-war architecture practice, Wilson & Partners, which sheds new light on the long, and sometimes troubled, construction of the British Library.

Welbeck Street multi-storey car park for Debenhams (2018) by Photographer: Christopher Hope-FitchRoyal Institute of British Architects

Similarly, RIBA creates records for buildings that have since been lost, like the Debenhams multi-storey car park, designed by Michael Blampied & Partners and photographed here by Christopher Hope-Fitch shortly before it was demolished in 2018. 

Aerial view of Liverpool looking towards the River Mersey (1967) by Photographer: John MillsRoyal Institute of British Architects

Used by students, scholars, architects, planners and heritage campaigners, as well as the wider public, RIBA's Collections continue to play a role in shaping many of our future buildings, towns and cities.

Find out more about the RIBA Collections, browse the catalogue and check visitor information.

Credits: Story

Explore more from RIBA Collections here. 
All images are from RIBA Collections unless listed.    

Image: The RIBA's headquarters at 66 Portland Place. Rights: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections
Image: The RIBA Library at 66 Portland Place. Rights: Rachel Manns / RIBA
Image: The V&A + RIBA Architecture Gallery. Rights: Morley von Sternberg / RIBA Collections
Image: Boadicea House (BOAC computer building), Heathrow Airport, London. Rights: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections
Image: The forecourt of the British Library. Rights: Janet Hall / RIBA Collections
Image: Welbeck Street multi-storey car park for Debenhams. Rights: Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA Collections
Image: Aerial view of Liverpool looking towards the River Mersey. Rights: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections

Curation and Interpretation by RIBA Public Programmes.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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