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Mies van der Rohe + James Stirling: Circling the Square

Mies and Stirling Circling the Square

07 March 2017

The Architecture Gallery, RIBA
8 March 2017 to 25 June 2017

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) unveils a major new exhibition, Mies van der Rohe + James Stirling: Circling the Square (8 March 2017 to 25 June 2017) offering a renewed examination of two iconic architectural schemes proposed for the same site in the City of London. Commissioned by architectural patron and developer Lord Peter Palumbo, Mies van der Rohe’s unrealised Mansion House Square project will be explored alongside its built successor, James Stirling Michael Wilford & Associates’ newly listed Number One Poultry.

Presented together for the first time, the exhibition offers a unique opportunity to draw comparisons between the design methods of two of the most highly recognised architects of the 20th century, and to trace the continuity in purpose and approach that unites two seemingly dissimilar architectural creations.

The design history of the two schemes spans three decades of the mid-20th century, a highly transitional period in the history of architecture where the movements and influences of pop art, high modernism and postmodernism co-existed and collided. Intended to replace an eclectic block of listed buildings, both schemes became subjects of passionate debate, and high-profile inquiries. This debate distracted attention from the architectural ideas and ambitions of both architects and patron.

As part of the exhibition the RIBA is organising a series of public events including; talks, curator tours, film screenings, courses, workshops and a ‘Late’ evening event. Highlights include a rare opportunity to see a film by Georgia van der Rohe about her father, Mies van der Rohe. The screening, on 20 March, will be introduced with a short talk by Dirk Lohan, Mies van der Rohe’s grandson, who will also participate in a panel discussion, Mies + Stirling: Contemporary Reflections, on 21 March.

Marie Bak Mortensen, Head of Exhibitions, said: “Through the display of rarely-seen working drawings and newly-restored presentation models, this exhibition returns the focus from the controversy back to the buildings themselves. With the distance of time, it encourages reflection on each project’s contribution to its own epoch, as well as their place in the continuum of architectural change and history in the City.”

The exhibition, designed by Carmody Groarke Architects, features models and materials, on loan to the RIBA by Lord Palumbo from his private collection, along with significant items from the No. 1 Poultry archive that provide an intimate insight into the workings of the Stirling office, from initial sketch ideas to his famous ‘worm-eye’ axonometric views.

Additional highlights in the exhibition include:

  • Detailed site model of the Mies scheme - one of the most impressive architectural models ever made, on display for the first time in over 30 years
  • Items from the archive of Lord Holford, on loan from Liverpool Archives, consultant architect to Mansion House Square
  • Photomontages by architectural photographer John Donat - whose archive is held in the RIBA Collections
  • Items from seminal architectural figures such as Philip Johnson, Berthold Lubetkin and Peter Carter

Mies van der Rohe, one of the most prominent architects of the 20th century, designed his proposal for Mansion House Square at the very end of his career, between 1962 and his death in 1969. The classic Miesian glass tower of 19 storeys and accompanying public square and underground shopping centre would have been Mies’ first and only project in the UK. After a protracted planning process, the scheme was finally rejected in 1985. Lord Palumbo then approached James Stirling, fresh from his success at Stuttgart with the Neue Staatsgalerie in 1984, to conceive an alternative vision for the site. James Stirling, Michael Wilford & Associates’ Number One Poultry was completed in 1997, five years after Stirling’s untimely death. It is often cited as a masterpiece of the post-international style and has recently been awarded Grade II* listed status; while it still divides opinion, the building was designed with an acute consciousness of both its historic surroundings and Mies’ earlier design.

The exhibition is co-curated by Marie Bak Mortensen, Head of Exhibitions and Vicky Wilson, Assistant Curator, RIBA.


Notes to editors:

  1. For further information contact Nicola Osmond-Evans in the RIBA press office:; 020 7307 3813 or visit
  2. The Architecture Gallery at RIBA is open from 10am – 5pm Monday to Sunday and until 8pm every Tuesday. Free entrance. RIBA is at 66 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD. Nearest tubes are Oxford Circus, Regent’s Park and Great Portland Street. The exhibition is part of a RIBA season of wide ranging events and workshops, designed for all ages and experience levels.
  3. The Architecture Gallery opened in February 2014 in the RIBA’s Grade II* listed Art Deco HQ. Through regular, free exhibitions that explore the past, present and future of our built environment the gallery programme will help visitors discover and explore architecture. The gallery offers the opportunity for the RIBA to display its world class collections contained in the British Architectural Library.
  4. The Royal Institute of British Architects is a global professional membership body that serves its members and society in order to deliver better buildings and places, stronger communities and a sustainable environment.
  5. The RIBA is a registered charity and it relies on the generosity of individuals, companies, trusts and foundations to preserve its world-class collections, to maintain free public access to its exhibitions and develop a diverse and exciting public events programme.
  6. Since its foundation in 1843, the RIBA has amassed one of the world’s largest and richest architectural collections, which now comprises over 4 million drawings, books, models and photographs. The RIBA curates this collection for the general public and specialist audiences and makes it available for research through galleries and reading rooms at its headquarters at 66 Portland Place, London, and at the Victoria & Albert Museum (with whom the RIBA has an architectural partnership)
  7. Follow @RIBA on Twitter for regular updates #MiesStirling

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