Books Collection

Books of Santiago Calatrava’s drawings, edited by Robertina Caltrava
Books CollectionExplore the collection of 150,000 books devoted to architecture

Image: Books of Santiago Calatrava’s drawings


Over a 100 new books are added to the Books Collection every month, ensuring the British Architectural Library remains a world-class public resource for architectural research. These can either be recent titles or historic items. Together, the collection of 150,000 books has been collected from all over the world and is available in many languages, with the earliest printed book being Saint Thomas Aquinas's 'Summa theologica' from 1478. The collection covers a wide range of architectural subjects supplemented by monographs on particular architects or firms. A few books are signed by the author or architect, e.g. Ken Yeang and Santiago Calatrava, while other books were once owned by architects such as Christopher Wren, Edwin Lutyens and John Soane. Access to the Library's collections is free.

Amongst the many subjects covered by the collection are:

  • architectural law and practice
  • history
  • building types, such as churches, galleries and houses
  • guides to the architecture of specific countries or regions
  • sustainability
  • town planning


Reading alcove, Reading Room, British Architectural Library, RIBA

The open shelves and reading alcoves of the Reading Room, RIBA, 66 Portland Place 

Most of the collection can be consulted by the public on open shelves or rolling stacks in the Reading Room (RIBA, 66 Portland Place). Visitors can browse the shelves (books are usually grouped by topic) or check the online catalogue for the details and locations of specific titles. Behind the enquiry desk of the Reading Room, there is a quick reference section providing easy access to a range of dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias, bibliographies, and indexes.

Some books, including the historic items in the Early Works Collection and other special collections, are kept in climate-controlled closed stacks. Most of these can be made available on request, a few are kept offsite and require advanced notice. An item's location (this information can be found in the online catalogue) will determine how quickly books can be retrieved for users.


Pamphlets and guidebooks

Display of church guides from the RIBA collections

Display of church guides from the RIBA collections 

A unique aspect of the collection is the 20,000 pamphlets, catalogues, trade literature and guidebooks related to specific buildings, local societies, exhibitions or official reports. They reflect the more ephemeral aspects of architectural publishing. These items are predominantly of British origin and date back to the early years of the 19th century. In March 2011 a collection of around 2,000 church guides was donated by the Heraldry Society. Now listed on the online catalogue, they contain a wealth of information not available elsewhere on many historic churches in Great Britain.

Searches for pamphlets, catalogues and guides can be made by using keywords in the online catalogue (they will be listed as part of the books collection). These items are held offsite and require advanced notice before they can be retrieved for visitors.

Location and access

Find information on getting here, admissions and opening hours in Visit Us.


Reading Room, British Architectural Library, RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London


Free entry. Available to the public during the opening hours of the Reading Room, please bring photographic I.D. for admission. Personal photography of some material is allowed and reprographic services are available for those who can not visit the Books and Periodicals Collection in person.

Visitor notice: Reduced access to some items

From now until early 2014, due to work to build a new exhibition gallery at 66 Portland Place, some items in the collection are being stored offsite. In the online catalogue items that have the location 77 Portland Place, BASEMENT, BOX, Pamphlet or AV are available by advanced request only (up to a week may be required), please fill in the 'Closed Access Request form' and email the completed form to marking your email 'Closed Access Request'. 

'SP-COLL' items can only be seen by special request. All items with the location 'HANDLEY-READ' will be unavailable due to the fragility of the material. More information about these changes and how they may affect access can be found in Library news.  

Finding material

To find out more about what books and periodicals are held in the Library, search the online catalogue. To perform a simple search of books in the catalogue enter a keyword and under 'collections' select 'Books'. Parts of the collection have been digitised and can be seen online via RIBApix. Alternatively, please contact the Library.

Please note that the RIBA's collections of drawings and archives are available from the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


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