Imperial College

Expansion of Imperial College

Perspective sketch design for expansion of Imperial College 1955

Detail of perspective sketch design for expansion of Imperial College, c.1955
Architect: Seely & Paget
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings & Archives Collections

Very little is known about this small sketch by the architectural firm Seely & Paget, however it is of special interest since it is the only architectural proposal for the expansion of Imperial College which planned to keep the entire Imperial Institute. Seely & Paget proposed modern high rise blocks to surround the Collcutt structure.

Campaign against demolition

In 1953 the government announced that the college would need to double in size and by 1956 it was public knowledge that this would involve the institute's demolition. Both the public and arts organisations rallied to defend the Victorian building, including the Royal Fine Arts Commission.

In March 1956 a public meeting was held to discuss the proposal. It was very well attended, including well-known figures such as Sir Hugh Casson, Stanley Hamp (former partner of Collcutt), and John Betjeman.

The poet and broadcaster, Betjeman, spoke of how tastes change, reminding everyone that during Victorian times St. Paul's Cathedral was under threat as Classical architecture was then out of favour. He concluded his speech stating that 'architecture is the most enduring memorial of civilisation that there is'.

Reasons for saving the institute

The following reasons against demolition of the building could be surmised from the meeting:


  • It is a key example of a major Victorian architect (Collcutt).
  • One of few large examples of British imperial architecture, for example, Lutyens' Viceroy Palace in Delhi.
  • Paid for by subscriptions sent from all parts of the then existing empire, therefore it would offend many people in and outside the Commonwealth.
  • Loss of promotion of the empire, now the Commonwealth - good facility for learning about lives of fellow citizens overseas, thus promoting early ideas of citizenship.
  • Erected to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
  • Nostalgia for the empire and the institute.
Post-war austerity
  • Waste of materials and money (it cost £279,000 to build in 1893), particularly shameful in post-war times.
Local views and landmark
  • Demolition will destroy the town planning of the area and axial views from Cromwell Road up to Kensington Gore.
  • Important and highest landmark for South Kensington area.