Unpacking imperialism: The British Empire in RIBA’s building and collections

Union Buildings, Pretoria, in 1913

Unpacking imperialism

The British Empire in RIBA’s building and collections

The history of RIBA is closely entwined with that of the British Empire, which expanded and consolidated its colonial grip around the world during the institute’s formative years in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among its aims, the institute sought to promote British architecture both at home and throughout the British Empire. Alongside other 19th century Royal Charter bodies, it attempted to legitimise Britain’s global dominance, with some members characterising British architecture as a superior product from which the rest of the world could learn.

These attitudes are reflected in the symbolism of the architecture of RIBA’s 1934 headquarters building at 66 Portland Place in London, and are revealed through some of the historic material held in the RIBA Collections, such as drawings, photographs, and manuscripts relating to British colonial architecture.

In these pages, we unpack some of the links to empire in our building and collections.

Revealing 66 Portland Place

Architectural historian Neal Shasore introduces the architecture, influences, and innovations of the RIBA’s 1930s headquarters building, designed by George Grey Wornum.

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