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Look at it this way

Mild controversy reigns over housing the RIBA’s national architecture centre, making architects submit tenders for work and the demise of British streets, which Park Hill sought to revive

25 years ago

RIBA Journal, December 1987. Hon treasurer George Oldham had his own ideas about how to house the RIBA’s mooted national architecture centre

As a Young Turk I first sat on RIBA Council in 1972. It didn’t take long to learn that the epicentre of the profession is not too distant from Euston Station, and that London, in terms of communications, is by far the most convenient location for our headquarters. (But) the conversion and refurbishment of [66 Portland Place] would be extremely expensive with little possibility of adequate cost control. Where then does that leave us? With, I suggest, an alternative which will galvanise the enthusiasm of not only the entire RIBA membership but of untapped numbers of the public with an interest in architecture. I refer of course to the opportunity presented by the development of a purpose-built new RIBA headquarters and architecture centre in the vicinity of the British Library just off the Euston Road.
Portland Place has two redeeming features: first, it is wholly owned by the membership, and second, it is worth approximately £10m. Now consider the opportunities presented by the creation of a new £15m architecture centre open to both profession and public and located at a railhead centre such as King’s Cross. It would have a relatively cheap site in what will, in the next decade, become a premium area. It also presents an opportunity for perhaps the most prestigious architectural competition of our time with all the attendant publicity. Much has been written of the image and accessibility of the profession: here is the golden opportunity to transform both. 


Park Hill’s broad elevated streets: a cut above.
Park Hill’s broad elevated streets: a cut above. Credit: Architectural press archive | riba library photographs collection

50 years ago

RIBA Journal, December 1962. The new Park Hill housing redevelopment in Sheffield with its ‘streets in the sky’  was gripping the profession. Its architect Jack Lynn explained the traditional roots of this seemingly radical scheme 

The peculiar englishness of English houses had never been adequately realised and explained. Le Corbusier’s Marseilles block, for instance, appeared to be rooted in the French tradition of an apartment building with one common entrance hall complete with concierge. Centuries of peace and 100 years of housing reform in this country had given us the open street approachable from either end and off which every house was entered directly through its own front door – a simple arrangement which gave complete freedom to come and go, to meet or avoid whom we pleased.  But it seemed that English architects were unable to see at home or think when abroad, and continental forms of collective houses began to be imported. We build many today and, in doing so, risk losing the very qualities in our housing which have much to do with our national independence of character and with community structure.  In our zeal to erase the evils rising out of a lack of proper water supply, sanitation and ventilation, we had torn down streets of houses which harboured a social structure of friendliness and mutual aid. We had thrown the baby out with the bath water.


100 years ago

RIBA Journal, December 1912.  Architects undercutting each other’s fees on schools a century ago? Sadly yes, and the RIBA was not happy. 

Mr. Robert J. Angel brought before the Institute the question of architects tendering for the preparation of designs of buildings, and in particular an instance of certain architects who submitted tenders to the Wigan Education Authority for designs and quantities for the erection of a High School for Girls. The council declared that they had instituted a competition – but this turned out to be not quite of the kind which the Institute understood by the word. 

The first architect quoted 5 per cent on the cost of the buildings, plus one and a half per cent for quantities... the last one was 3 per cent plus one and a half per cent. This led to what they at the Institute would consider to be a breach of the rule that an architect should charge so much according to the scale laid down in the Institute Schedule of Charges. The Corporation placed the architect on the same footing as they would a builder, by inviting him to tender. 

If they (RIBA Council) could do something, by a strong recommendation in the Journal, that it was considered not in accordance with the principles of the Institute that members should tender, except by saying that their charges would be based on the Institute Schedule, it would be well.  The motion, having put to the meeting, was carried unanimously.