Imperial College

Demolition of the institute

Model of expansion scheme by Norman & Dawbarn for Imperial College 1956

Model of Jubilee expansion scheme by Norman & Dawbarn for Imperial College, c. 1956
Model makers: McCutchon Studio
Photographer: Neville Miles
Copyright: Reproduced by permission of Imperial College Archives London/ Neville
Miles Photographer 

The public outcry, which was provoked by the announcement that the Imperial Institute would be demolished to make way for the expansion of Imperial College, was made worse by the apparent secrecy surrounding what was to come in its place.

The expansion scheme was announced in 1953, and the college employed the architectural firm Norman & Dawbarn to produce a plan for its expansion; however, its plans were not publicised until after 1956. This is one of two Norman & Dawbarn models in the college archives: one with a redesigned site having completely removed the institute; and this second model which shows the retention of the Queen's Tower (in the centre).

Press reaction to the scheme

The proposed demolition had considerable press coverage, including the Illustrated London News citing the campanile as 'one of the outstanding beauties of the Kensington and western London skyline…'(1), and Christopher Hussey at Country Life declared Collcutt's building as equal to the Law Courts or Westminster Cathedral.

In March 1956 the Evening Standard published an amusing cartoon showing campaigners outside the Queen's Tower, dressed as the king and one of his soldiers, with the caption: 'If they'd get as worked up about the Empire as they do its monuments we might still have an Empire…' (2).

Transformation of the site

As a result of the campaign the Queen's Tower was saved. Partial demolition began in 1957 and Norman & Dawbarn began work on what they called the 'Island site'. The Imperial Institute changed its name to the Commonwealth Institute, and what remained moved to Holland Park in 1962. Its successor is now based in New Zealand House, the Haymarket, London.

The Island site was completely transformed by Norman & Dawbarn over the next ten years. Facilities for Imperial College were vastly expanded and improved, but the symmetrical layout of the area and the vistas up from Cromwell Road towards Kensington Gore were destroyed forever (these can be seen in aerial photographs from 1935).


(1) Illustrated London News, 14 April 1956, p.291
(2) Evening Standard, 15 March 1956