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RIBA reveals plans for ‘once in a generation’ House of Architecture investment

Find out more about House of Architecture - a transformative programme that will focus on our architectural collections, upgrades to our digital technology, and sensitive, essential refurbishment and restoration of 66 Portland Place in London.

22 March 2024

Today we’ve announced further details of our House of Architecture programme to transform the Royal Institute of British Architects' member offer.  

The £85 million proposal will widen access to architecture, focusing on three key areas:   

  1. Bringing together our architectural collections – among the largest and most significant in the world – so they can be better cared for, accessed and appreciated more widely than ever before
  2. Extensive upgrades to our digital technology – creating a vastly improved online experience.  
  3. Sensitive, essential refurbishment and restoration of our 66 Portland Place headquarters to make it more accessible, useful, sustainable and welcoming.  

Event at 66 Portland Place, London ©RIBA

Unlocking our world-class collections  

Consisting of over four million objects, spanning thousands of architects and hundreds of years, The RIBA Collections are of huge practical and academic value to people all over the world. Currently dispersed across five UK locations, the ambitious plans will bring them together in a new collections centre where they can be better conserved and expanded through new acquisitions.   

Storing them in a single location will facilitate extensive cataloguing and digitisation, in preparation for the launch of a vast online resource that will provide new opportunities for anyone to discover, access, use and enjoy.  

The improvements will also transform our exhibitions programme, helping to showcase fragile and previously inaccessible items from the collections, offer immersive experiences, and enable us to collaborate and co-programme with organisations around the world.   

Two new spaces at 66 Portland Place will provide additional opportunities for material to be viewed and accessed: a new exhibition space with museum conditions, alongside the existing Architecture Gallery, will house treasures from the collections, while a reimagined library will offer an innovative hub for students and researchers.  

Alternative designs for the Palazzo Porto Festa, Vicenza, Andrea Palladio (c.1560). RIBA Collections

The collections are global in scope and rich in historical detail. They include sketches and notes by Sir Christopher Wren and Andrea Palladio, as well as photographs and models alongside a host of objects and artefacts from drawing instruments to Architect Barbie™ (below).

Architect Barbie
Architect Barbie RIBA Collections © Mattel™

Among over 150,000 books, rarities include a 1486 edition of Vitruvius’ De Architectura and an original 1563 copy of John Shute’s The First and Chief Groundes of Architecture.  

More recent additions illustrate the diversity of the collections, such as a personal sketch of a reimagined Trafalgar Square by Dame Zaha Hadid, sent as a Christmas card to fellow student Antony Feldman in 1974, as well as evocative photographs of projects by pioneering women architects Jane Drew and Minnette de Silva.

Items contributed by architects still practising include original drawings of the Eden project by Nicholas Grimshaw, and collections bequeathed by Denys Lasdun, Colin St John Wilson, MJ Long, Leslie Martin and Sadie Speight.  

Design for imagined replanning of Trafalgar Square, a birthday card from Zaha Hadid to fellow Architectural Association student, Antony Feldman (1974). RIBA Collections

Enabling our global digital network  

With thousands of members across the UK and around the world, investment in our digital technology will bring the global architecture community closer together.   

The upgrading and integration of existing digital systems will transform our online presence and members’ experience, while new technologies will enable virtual participation in physical events.

A new digital platform, with a refreshed brand and identity, will provide an engaging gateway to our wide range of resources and programmes – including professional guidance, awards, exhibitions and more. A new Virtual Learning Environment will also create a single destination for members to learn, reflect and record their CPD.   

66 Portland Place, proposed concept ©Benedetti Architects

Restoration and refurbishment of 66 Portland Place  

A landmark in the heart of London, 66 Portland Place has been our home since the 1930s, the site gifted to the institute on a thousand-year lease.  

Focused on making the building more accessible, sustainable and welcoming, much of the £58.8m scoped work relates to essential improvements to ageing services and systems that will produce a significant reduction in energy use and ensure it is a safe, accessible, functioning place for people to work, learn and visit.     

Larger lifts will enable universal access to all 28 levels – many of which can currently only be reached by stairs, while new services and enhancements to the building’s fabric will significantly improve the building’s thermal performance.   

The proposals will ensure that 66 Portland Place is a valuable and vibrant destination for our members and visitors. Plans include:

  • a new fully accessible level entrance on Weymouth Street into a destination café full of models and drawings with covered pavement seating
  • a Treasures Room showing highlights from the RIBA Collections
  • external banners
  • a relocated shop to attract and welcome members of the public

Members will also benefit from improved event spaces, a reimagined library and a reinstated members’ room in its original 1934 location. Some of these will be subject to the usual consultations and planning permissions required of a Grade II* building.  

Collaborative workspaces will provide significantly improved arrangements for our colleagues. These, along with sensitive upgrades to the many multipurpose events spaces within the building, will make a vital contribution to a commercially sustainable future for us and provide members, visitors and colleagues with a first-class venue and experience.  

The programme for the initial phase of work on 66 Portland Place – consultation, design, planning permissions, fundraising, construction and reoccupation – is anticipated to take approximately four years. The building will be closed for some of this time but will remain fully open for business to visitors and for venue bookings for at least the next year.  

Commenting on the House of Architecture programme, Chair of the RIBA Board Jack Pringle, said:   

“This is a once in a generation undertaking – a transformative and urgently needed programme to secure RIBA’s future prosperity and sustainability. Building on our nearly 200 years of history, House of Architecture will reinforce our identity as an outward looking cultural institution that champions architects and architecture. By making this investment in our facilities and technology, we are strengthening our ability to deliver on our purpose, for generations to come.   

“Much of what we are doing is not optional - the systems at 66 Portland Place are at the end of their lives. The building does not provide universal access and its solid-wall, single-glazed, gas fire systems are not sustainable. It will become a much-needed facility for our members visiting the capital - somewhere fascinating to visit and bring clients, with spaces to work and dine. It will also be an inspiring destination for anyone with a passion for architecture – a place for children and young people to learn about architecture’s power to improve society and people’s lives.  

“A reimagined RIBA will be better equipped to support our members and to show the world the value that architects bring to tackling the biggest challenges facing our planet. It will also ensure that we can fulfil our responsibility as custodians of one of the greatest architectural collections in the world by sharing this unique body of knowledge as widely as possible.”  

RIBA President, Muyiwa Oki, added:  

“House of Architecture is about unlocking and opening RIBA to make it – and everything it offers – far more accessible. The proposed investment in our collections, upgrades to our digital platform, and improvements to our landmark building at 66 Portland Place are vital. Together, these will ensure that we can encourage more people to care about architecture, promoting a deeper understanding and appreciation.   

“We want RIBA to be at the heart of a global architecture community where important ideas – including how we design a low carbon future – are developed and shared.”   

The House of Architecture programme will be funded through fundraising and capital spend. We are also exploring potential partnerships and sponsorship, particularly for the collections.   

Our early engagement members’ survey is now closed – thank you to everyone that took part in this. We will be reviewing and analysing this feedback before we consult more widely on our plans in the coming weeks where there will be further opportunities to comment on all aspects of the programme.

In the meantime, you can sign up for regular House of Architecture updates

General queries can be sent to:  

Find out more on our House of Architecture homepage.

Minnette de Silva climbing up to inspect concrete pillars and slab work of the De Saram house, Colombo (c.1956). RIBA Collections

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