Latest RIBA News

Training in Determination

RIBA Blogs - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 09:31

Article by Emily Fribbance

Sitting on the RIBA council alongside Albena, as well as being part of the RIBA Education committee, I’m involved in one of the most exciting discussions in architectural education of our time. It is crucial that the right decisions are made now to ensure that training is current, relevant and economical whilst maintaining the highest quality

Whilst the modernisation of the EU Professional Qualifications Directive presents the broad outline of minimum training time in two formats “5+0” or “4+2”, the whole frameworks are to be updated by the RIBA to offer a much more flexible course that doesn’t cost the earth, just part of it. Don’t be too disheartened though, the restructuring should bring course costs in line with other professional training courses whilst making graduates far more employable upon completion. With such a rigorous system in place at the moment, renowned for its ‘toughness’, how can we uphold its reputation for turning out such highly determined bright minds?

Emily Fribbance and Thomas Heatherwick

Speaking at the Design Museum a few weeks ago, Thomas Heatherwick gave merit to architectural education for this training in determination. He shared his experience of employing 80 architects for the usually attributed design skills and technicalities but recognised the greatest influence to the studio being the sheer determination that they all brought with them. It is this will power and dedication found in architects – that finds its way in to our systems during the study years – that I believe ultimately keeps the industry alive and flourishing. We must continue to impart this eagerness to challenge our environments and strive for the creation of the most efficient, sustainable and beautiful designs obtainable.

Halfway through my year in industry, I can understand concerns about academia becoming disconnected from practice when hearing figures like “5+0”. Work experience cannot be manufactured at University nor professional skills truly understood without practice. These views have recently been voiced at the Architecture Student Network: Lines Drawn conference, where architecture students from across the UK gathered to discuss the future of education. The importance of visiting practitioners, live projects and professional experience is not being overlooked however; it is high on the agenda to further these relationships and to embed this content within the course, starting earlier.

Architecture Students Network: Lines Drawn conference (photograph by Zlatina Spasova, courtesy of The ASN)

With so much content to fit into the Architecture course, you can imagine that few details can be covered in a short blog. If you feel you have something to contribute to the discussion about the future of architectural education, please comment below, or if you’d prefer email Albena and me at


Categories: Latest from the RIBA

The impact of Liverpool’s architecture on America

RIBA Blogs - Wed, 04/02/2014 - 17:51

Due to its music scene and architecture, Liverpool can be considered as the most ‘American’ of Britain’s cities…

Lunching around one of the 25ft dials of the clock for the Royal Liver Building, Pier Head, Liverpool, 1911
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

If the Atlantic Ocean is seen as a conduit and not as a barrier between the United States and Britain, then it explains why Liverpool, once a focus for Britain’s international trade and European emigration to the New World, was considered the most ‘American’ of British cities and a centre for the exchange of ideas between the two countries. Although the more famous expression of this cultural dialogue has been in music, mainly through the Beatles, it has left an equally strong architectural legacy in the city.

The story of Oriel Chambers and the Liver Building, two of Liverpool’s most innovative buildings, trace the early story of this exchange which continues to this day, together they show the flow of ideas was two way.


Oriel Chambers, Water Street, Liverpool, in 1971
© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Architect Peter Ellis (1804-1884) is known only through two buildings, both in Liverpool, one of which is Oriel Chambers, the first metal-framed glass curtain wall building in the world. American architect John Wellborn Root, who went into partnership with Daniel Hudson Burnham, studied in Liverpool during the American Civil War and it’s likely he would have seen Oriel Chambers. With its cast-iron frame bearing the weight of the building, Ellis could free the façade from supporting stonework and replace it with more glass, enabling the interior of Oriel Chambers to be filled with natural light. It was these ideas that can be seen later in the work of Burnham and Root, who would go on to design some of the tallest buildings in the world and begin the modern obsession to build upwards. Completed in 1864, Oriel Chambers is 150 years old this year.

In the 20th century, the scale and vigour of American buildings began to change the way British architects were designing. The Liver Building, designed by Walter Aubrey Thomas and completed in 1911, was both Britain’s first reinforced concrete building and first skyscraper. Despite its heavy Edwardian features, the influence of American skyscrapers can be seen in its scale and construction. An elevated electric train line ran once along Liverpool’s waterfront and next to the Liver building, something that would have been equally at home operating between the urban blocks of Chicago or New York.

New headquarters for Martins Bank Limited, Water Street, Liverpool, 1932
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

The story of American influence in Liverpool continued into the interwar period with the building of giant office blocks, smaller cousins of the great skyscrapers of America’s east coast, such as Martins Bank and India Buildings on Water Street, both designed by local architect Herbert James Rowse. Direct architectural links were maintained by the Liverpool School of Architecture, under the leadership of Professor Charles Reilly between 1904 and 1933, when its students were sent over to the USA to work in the practices of leading architecture firms. One of those students was Rowse.

After World War II, new ideas were coming from the USA and Europe. Neoclassical and Art Deco styles and Beaux Arts ideas were replaced by Modernism, resulting in new icons which modernised the city and changed the way Liverpudlians lived. The architecture of this corner of Merseyside is not of the British Isles, but one which has long looked to America and the world.


Find out more:

Discover more about the history of this cultural exchange  by attending the next RIBA talk Trans-Atlantic Exchange – British Architecture and the ‘Special Relationship‘ at 66 Portland Place, 6.30pm Tuesday 8 April 2014 (tickets £9 / £6.50 concessions).


References (available in the British Architectural Library, RIBA):

  • Royal Liver Building. Architectural Review, 1911 October, pp.209-215
  • History: Oriel Chambers. Architectural Review, 1956 May, pp.268-70
  • Fraser, M., 2007. Architecture and the ‘special relationship’ : the American influence of post-war British architecture. London : Routledge
Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Final Frame: Reliance Factory, Swindon

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 03/28/2014 - 13:22

Built quickly and cheaply, the Reliance Factory was one of the first of a new style of futuristic buildings…

Image (enlarge): Factory for Reliance Controls Limited, Swindon, 1967
Architect: Team 4
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

The Reliance Factory might seem at first glance an unlikely icon, but it was a crucial building in the story of British architecture’s transformation in the post-war years. Designed by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster’s collaborative ‘Team 4’ practice in 1967, this was one of the young global stars to be’s first buildings and it was a revelation. With its simple use of cheap sheet materials, exposed joints and external bracing, it was an early glimpse of a new approach to building in the UK that would go on to become known as ‘High Tech.’ Principles developed here on the obscure outskirts of Swindon, would later go on to influence some of the world’s greatest modern buildings, including the Pompidou in Paris and others.

Article by Mike Althorpe, RIBA
Curator of The Brits Who Built the Modern World


Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Moving Pictures – Kampala and Johannesburg

RIBA Blogs - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 16:10

Article by Thomas Aquilina

I’m thinking of two photographs I took of bicycles. Both were taken on my last days in Kampala and Johannesburg, respectively.

(Fig 1) Godfrey M. in Nakasero Market (Kampala, Uganda) photograph © Thomas Aquilina

In a fruit market, a toolmaker toils. With a bespoke bicycle powering a grindstone, he sharpens knives. His hands hardened from operating the abrasive disc. It is a clever mechanism and, from the look of it, a nylon string is tucked between wheel rim and tyre, and driven by his pedalling. In the same way as nearby parasols, a broad-brimmed hat shades him from the searing Ugandan sun. He appears undisturbed by the nonstop purchase and sale of livestock and commodities. A little distance away, market traders watch the toolmaker at work. Some watchers look curiously, their gaze captured in the photograph.

(Fig 2) Graffiti illustration in Yeoville (Johannesburg, South Africa) photograph © Thomas Aquilina

On a plastered wall, a piece of graffiti provokes. A comic illustration of a cow piggybacked on a man, riding a bicycle. The stencilled characters appear life-sized. But the cow is disproportionately heavy for the cyclist, and burdens him. Its coat is patterned to resemble a world map. The world held aloft the cyclist’s shoulders. Instead of a monkey on your back, the cow is favoured as a metaphor to the customs of traditional Zulu life. It is painted with a black-tipped nose, a feature of the Nguni cattle breed and indigenous to southern Africa.


A bicycle as a primary mode of transport across these two cities is rare. The familiar rhetoric of its mobility hasn’t yet taken off. Perhaps it is to do with minimal access to a bicycle market and maintenance of the machine, or other larger and faster vehicles unwilling to share road space, compromising safety. In these cities public minibuses are affordable and the surest way to get around for the majority of commuters. In Kampala traffic is thick and boda-bodas (lightweight motorbike taxis) are also widespread.

The paired photographs not only reference each other as mere locomotion on two wheels, but also faint moments of imagination and inventive solutions. Both the toolmaker and graffiti artist are operators within the informal dimension of these places, albeit with very different necessities. The toolmaker, Godfrey N., told me “all things in the market move around knives. Traders need them to cut anything from tomatoes to meat.” Godfrey, propelled by his pedals, would usually sharpen around 200 knives per day.

Lwazi M., a Johannesburg resident who showed me the graffiti image, said the illustration tells the story of many informal livelihoods. He suggested, “Life in this condition is always compromised.” Their carrying capacity, though, shouldn’t be underestimated. In this upending and unsure mode of operating, people are agile. Lwazi assured me “They’re all heading somewhere.”

The pictures invoke a feeling of momentum. Yet the bicycles are stationary. The subjects are fixed in place, their legs turning continuously but rooted to the spot. The bicycles become more a play of aspirations for residents to change their circumstances. Not necessarily implying an outward mobility or inhabitants physically departing from their city, but transformation of their current condition. The photographs point to the possibilities to reposition what already exists.

Yeoville (Johannesburg, South Africa) photograph © Thomas Aquilina


Categories: Latest from the RIBA

2014 Royal Gold Medal Student Crit: Silver Medal

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 16:09

On 25 February 2014, Joseph Rykwert, this year’s Royal Gold Medallist, was joined by Stephen Hodder (RIBA President), David Gloster (RIBA Director of Education), and Alexandra Stara (Kingston University and Chair of the RIBA President’s Dissertation Medal judging panel) to form the panel of the 2014 RIBA Royal Gold Medal Student Crit. The audience comprised esteemed academics and architects, and many of Rykwert’s peers eager to hear the presentations from the three President’s Medals winners.

Left to right: Tamsin Hanke (2013 RIBA President’s Dissertation Medallist), Ness Lafoy (2013 RIBA President’s Bronze Medallist), Joseph Rykwert (2014 RIBA Royal Gold Medallist), and Ben Hayes (2013 RIBA President’s Silver Medallist)

Following the presentations of their medal-winning entries by Tamsin Hanke (2013 President’s Dissertation Medallist) and Ness Lafoy (2013 President’s Bronze Medallist), it was Ben Hayes’s turn to present his design project work on ‘Kizhi Island’. He reported how Russia was seeking to facilitate the restoration of churches as part of an interest on national heritage, landscape and identity, but that there was a severe lack of funding.

Using a range of landscape paintings as a starting point for his research, Ben discovered the depiction of a sublime serenity of architecture within a context of nature anchored by religious undertones. He considered the impact of collectivisation in Northern Russia, and how with the desertification of farms, there weren’t trained people left who would be able to maintain the churches.

Ben Hayes presenting his medal-winning project

Ben’s proposal to this situation was to create an architectural intervention that addressed deeper issues of restoration, such as whether or not the churches should be restored in their current location. However, with no-one left to maintain any restoration, this did not seem like a viable solution. Instead, he looked into the possibility of disassembly, shipping and reassembly, an option that would be easier to sustain as the construction of the churches made disassembly easy. The site became Kihzi Island as it already had a few churches from the 1950s, and was a functioning (although small) open-air museum, where churches were already being restored.

While researching locations with a similar profile, Ben discovered that the ability to adapt and to have a dialogue with the local area was key to realising his intent, as the least successful museums were those that were stagnant and archival. He looked at three-dimensional and sectional forms to consider what type of architecture would allow for restoration, and subsequently designed a series of buildings. Restoration hangars were designed as part of the cataloguing procedure, as the churches could be divided into five types. The design of each hangar was clearly informed by the style of churches within them. Ben explained that his inspiration for this design was a story of a church that had been restored by building another church around it as a kind of ‘outer skin’. He made the hangars habitable for craftsmen, as he also wanted the island to host research centres and laboratories.

After restoration, Ben attempted to create a light and flexible infrastructure which would allow for an ongoing curation process to exhibit the churches on the island; some would remain as permanent features, while others would be temporary. Ben then summed up his presentation by explaining how the materiality and form had been informed by buildings already on the island. He described how he had produced a variety of scales and models, and was now working on a scale 1 to 1 model as part of a collaborative project as a result of his research. He concluded by stating how important he felt this work was in order to raise awareness and create change of important issues associated with restoration.

Joseph Rykwert was the first to comment on Ben’s presentation, and he started by querying whether the island was populated, to which Ben responded that there were about 12 people on the island working for the existing museum. Joseph asked whether or not there had been any consideration of other methods of repopulating the island, and Ben answered by describing how the island had been a site of Pagan worship in the past but that depopulation was inevitable in its current state.

Alexandra Stara praised Ben’s work, describing it as an ‘extraordinary project’ that was very eloquently presented. She challenged the museum proposal on the grounds that it was decontextualizing and aestheticizing churches, something which Ben had criticised at the beginning. She wondered if Ben had considered any other options, perhaps such as a school for the training of restoration. Ben agreed that it was something he had considered, and to address that he had included accommodation for researchers and students. He explained that after his initial research he came to a paradoxical situation and had to negotiate this standstill in his proposal by doing a bit of everything. He argued that the churches were already decontextualized with no-one using them in their current situation, and he had realised that he had to marry up reality against his initial research.

David Gloster commented that all three projects had dealt with flight from established communities, and that social agenda as a theme was emerging in the student work submitted for the RIBA President’s Medals over the course of the last five or six years. He then asked Ben what he had in mind for the future of the hangars. Ben felt that the hangars had a liminal quality, although at one point in the project they had been almost exclusively industrial. He explained that the plan would be for the hangars to remain on the island due to the constant state of maintenance that would be necessary.

Stephen Hodder picked up on David’s comment regarding the social agenda theme and reflected that there had been a RIBA Building Futures report a few years ago that had called for architects to respond to this.

A question from the audience voiced concern that the project was lacking in political agenda, and pointed to St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff as an example where a political issue had made the project more sustainable. Ben countered with an example in Williamsburg, which was based on a concept of nationalisation. He argued that this was now outdated, and struggling to adapt. He explained that he wanted his model to offer flexibility without being prescriptive, and had offered a solution in the form of a light infrastructure allowing movement. He concluded that he was uneasy about using the currency of culture in a political way.

Ben Hayes answering questions from the audience

A second question from the audience asked if Ben had considered the beauty of decay, and whether this had been the driving force behind undertaking a project of this nature. Ben agreed that the photographs and imagery were romantic, but stated that even the photographer had recognised that he wouldn’t have anything left to photograph if the decay continued. Ben considered the dilemma between whether or not to restore, conserve or preserve. He felt that the position he had taken was to allow for all three approaches.

All three projects succeeded in demonstrating what it was that had attracted the judges towards these entries. The work and clarity of vision was presented clearly with the students dealing with difficult questions form the panel adeptly. The relevance underpinning these projects served to reinforce to the audience the importance of contemporary approaches to architecture and to architectural education by having students engaging with pertinent social agendas.

Ben Hayes

(Written by Hayley Russell)

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

2014 Royal Gold Medal Student Crit: Bronze Medal

RIBA Blogs - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 13:06

On 25 February 2014, Joseph Rykwert, this year’s Royal Gold Medallist, was joined by Stephen Hodder (RIBA President), David Gloster (RIBA Director of Education), and Alexandra Stara (Kingston University and Chair of the RIBA President’s Dissertation Medal judging panel) to form the panel of the 2014 RIBA Royal Gold Medal Student Crit. The audience comprised esteemed academics and architects, and many of Rykwert’s peers eager to hear the presentations from the three President’s Medals winners.

Left to right: Ness Lafoy (2013 RIBA President’s Bronze Medallist), Tamsin Hanke (2013 RIBA President’s Dissertation Medallist), and Ben Hayes (2013 RIBA President’s Silver Medallist)

Ness explained how she was interested in exploring the architecture of traditional Finnish dwellings with internal layouts featuring large communal rooms. She decided that she wanted to create a communal clubhouse, but one that would emerge in the public consciousness without detracting from the natural beauty of the area. She planned to extend the boat postal service, as well as creating a canteen, accommodation units for islanders visiting the mainland, and a civic centre. She also stressed the importance of varying levels of stability and security underfoot mirroring different stages of their journeys, and as an underpinning concept she felt that the fracture of the landscape mimicked the identity of the archipelago.

The accommodation units were designed with a tank system, which meant that they would be partially submerged when not in use, and would rise and sink when needed. These units created extra outdoor space and a temporary residential street in the form of public platforms that would then lead out to the council chamber, which would also tilt in the water. The club house would be the only building designed on land, linked together to the sorting office, a layout devised after consideration of the fact that islanders tended to form close relationships with their post workers due to the isolation of the islands.

Ness described how she had charted a day in the life of an islander in order to inform her work. She felt that it had been important to look at the buildings from a personal user level of an islander, a mainlander, a postal worker and a tourist, and how any design would need to factor in the comings and goings of visitors.

Stephen Hodder praised the ‘beautiful drawings’ and noted that the project dealt with an ‘important agenda.’ When asked to comment on Ness’s project, Joseph Rykwert stated that he was puzzled by some aspects, in particular the use of tilting. He explained that he felt there was very little gain to the amount of expense that would be incurred, and asked Ness for her thoughts on the matter. Ness explained that originally the buildings weren’t going to be permanent. She felt that the tilting gave the buildings a subtle quality which mirrored the harbour as well as representing the movements of the islanders.

Joseph also queried why the project had taken place on the mainland rather than an island. Ness responded that she hadn’t wanted to spoil the natural beauty of the place, and felt that it wouldn’t have achieved the desired aim of the project, which was to create a presence for the islanders in the city as well as creating a communal meeting point for them. Joseph concluded that he was ‘seduced by the drawings’ but sceptical of the economy of the project.

David Gloster praised the project for being ‘well-argued’ and ‘useful’, and went on to claim that it had ‘charmed everybody’. He liked that it was enhancing the idea of archipelago living, and compared its impermanence to Also Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo in Venice. He wondered if Ness had found timber limiting as a material and whether she had been tempted to make it grander or more extravagant in order to help give some of the civic values more gravitas. Ness countered that she hadn’t wanted the buildings to be obnoxious, loud or insensitive, and that she had wanted to try and encourage people to visit the archipelago. She wanted the buildings to be recognised as being native.

Alexandra Stara agreed that Ness had made the right decision on this. She began her commentary by admitting that her comment might sound initially superficial, but hoped that everyone could recognise the profundity. While everyone had praised the illustration, she felt uneasy about the representation as she thought it communicated something very different from the issues that were explored in the project. She felt that Ness’ choice of a drawing style could be perceived as demonstrating a lack of context or sensitivity. Ness explained that the style had developed as she had progressed. She had been daunted by the different components and had introduced characters to help make sense of it. The sketches had lent themselves to sequencing which subsequently meant she had ended up with these storytelling illustrations. Alexandra queried whether the storytelling had meant that she had created too much distance from the actual place. Ness contemplated that perhaps she had focused too much on the story of the islander and that it would have been good to consider more the experience from the perspective of a resident of Helsinki.

A member of the audience questioned whether Ness Lafoy had considered the climate issues. Ness spoke about the frozen harbour climactic issues and explained that a larger ferry service currently served as an ice breaker out to the third island. She argued that the town hall might actually render places more accessible in winter.

Ness Lafoy

Written by Hayley Russell. Don’t miss the third and final blog post on the 2014 RGM Crit, covering the presentation by Ben Hayes, the 2013 RIBA President’s Silver Medallist.

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

2014 Royal Gold Medal Student Crit: Dissertation Medal

RIBA Blogs - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 15:56

On 25 February 2014, Joseph Rykwert, this year’s Royal Gold Medallist, was joined by Stephen Hodder (RIBA President), David Gloster (RIBA Director of Education), and Alexandra Stara (Kingston University and Chair of the RIBA President’s Dissertation Medal judging panel) to form the panel of the 2014 RIBA Royal Gold Medal Student Crit. The audience comprised esteemed academics and architects, and many of Rykwert’s peers eager to hear the presentations from the three President’s Medals winners.

Left to right: Tamsin Hanke (2013 RIBA President’s Dissertation Medallist), Ness Lafoy (2013 RIBA President’s Bronze Medallist), Joseph Rykwert (2014 RIBA Royal Gold Medallist), and Ben Hayes (2013 RIBA President’s Silver Medallist)

The first one to present was Tamsin Hanke, from the Bartlett School of Architecture, who received the President’s Dissertation Medal for her work Magnitogorsk: Utopian Vision of Spatial Socialism. Tamsin started by outlining how the city of Magnitogorsk was founded on the extreme south of the eastern face of the Ural mountain during Stalin’s Five year plans. Originally a small settlement with a military base to the north, Magnitogorsk underwent significant development once it was discovered (when compasses failed to work correctly in the military base) that it was rich in iron ore. As part of his plans on industrialisation, Stalin planned to build mono-industry cities, and Magnitogorsk was to be an exemplar of this approach by becoming the heart of steel manufacturing. Designed by Ernst May, the city was constructed following a linear layout running along the Ural River as a model of efficiency, productivity and manufacturing. The idea was that Magnitogorsk would produce not only a new type of city, but also a new type of people, who would be the ‘real proletariat’ rather than peasants. Following in the footsteps of Detroit as a model for how space could be used instinctively in an efficient way, engineers were flown in from the US to provide guidance on how to develop the fabric of the city.

Intensive construction in the first few years of the history of Magnitogorsk meant that the population swiftly rose from 500 to 500,000. The initial workforce was recruited partly through forced labour, partly through recruitment, and partly through migration, with subsequent population growth coming exclusively from migration. Anecdotal stories told how the lights on construction site made the city seem really exciting as people arrived at night, and it was only in morning that they realised it was all still under construction. In the end, the authorities locked the city down in order to stop the migration.

Ernst May’s masterplan for Magnitogorsk

Ivan Leonidov’s proposal for Magnitogorsk

The first architectural problem with Magnitogorsk became apparent when it emerged that a large building (whose construction efforts were well-intentioned but unsuccessful) had been built on the wrong side of the river, in a location that made the direction of wind blow pollution into city. Furthermore, it soon became clear that walking between blocks was very difficult, and people had to rely heavily on public transport. Interestingly, Magnitogorsk was designed so that every street ended with a view of the factory to ensure that inhabitants were always aware of the relationship between the city and its industry. Due to this socialist relationship, in 1997, a team of psychologists were employed to report on the impact that capitalism would have on the city.

Magnitogorsk is now one of the 30 most polluted cities in world where only 1% of children of its population of 400,000 people are born healthy. New areas are constructed to adhere to the grid rather that repopulating disused blocks, and buildings become more modern the further South one travels. Privately owned by an oligarch, the city can currently be considered a micro dictatorship. In spite of containing reserves of iron ore that would last for five years, the mineral is imported, in case Russia goes into war. In her summary, Tamsin reported that there are 400 other mono cities in Russia, all in a similar state, a situation which (in her view) poses a threat to the future of Russia.

When asked by Stephen Hodder to comment, Joseph Rykwert told the audience how he had previously been involved in a similar project, and city farmers thought they could solve the problem by building an internal transport system and expensive hotels. He wondered what the city farmers of Magnitogorsk thought the future would be now?

Tamsin explained how the city is successful for the private oligarch, although reliant on the fact that people don’t leave. When looking into the future for the city, it was important to remember that Russia is now looking eastwards (namely, to China) for trade and that the city had not been built in a way that contemplated the possibility of retrofitting.

Magnitogorsk’s main squares

Tram lines on the streets of Magnitogorsk

Alexandra Stara reflected on the wider pool of dissertations submitted for the awards and on the diverse thematic variety. She added that the judging panel had naturally veered towards relevance of subjects rather than self-indulgent theoretical exercises, emphasising the importance that work be culturally aware, poetic and ambitious with implications for the world. She praised Tamsin’s dissertation for being a ‘fascinating, original piece of research’ before querying her thoughts on the idea of ‘utopia’ which had been used in the presentation. When originally conceived, Alexandra explained that Utopia had been about ultimate efficiency.

Tamsin answered that she had used the word utopia as a way of weighing things up, and felt that the intention for the city wasn’t always realised. She believed it was more about looking to the future, and into considerations of a practical utopia where people felt it would be possible to achieve something. It therefore could become a practical end goal rather than unrealisable dream.

Joseph asked if Tamsin had considered European models of linear cities as well as linear development. Tamsin responded that she has looked at Corbusier, but that Magnitogorsk differed in that it had been proposed with a different intention behind it.

The 2014 Royal Gold Medal Crit panel: (left to right) David Gloster, Alexandra Stara, Joseph Rykwert, and Stephen Hodder

Tamsin Hanke presenting her work

David Gloster described the work as ‘gripping’ with ‘clarity of vision second to none’. He explained how he personally disagreed with the wider Western critique of the socialist city, and praised the potent iconography, the synergy between building and landscape and construction with a functional and social agenda. He wondered whether Tamsin felt the next 50 to 100 years would have something that has this type of clarity and bravery attached to it. She replied by saying that she felt architects constantly worked with optimism and hope.

An audience member questioned what conclusions Tamsin had drawn from the work and how she wanted to progress with these. She stated that it was important to look at Magnitogorsk and the ways in which its spaces were used with a potential to be socialist, regardless of whether that intent was achieved or not. She did caution, however, that a city built from political ideology has a limited time frame, which in itself has wider implications for the livelihood of its inhabitants.

Tamsin Hanke


Written by Hayley Russell. Don’t miss the next blog posts on the 2014 RGM Crit, covering the presentations by the Bronze and Silver Medallists.

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Final Frame: Hutchesontown

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 03/07/2014 - 18:34

A look at how post-war slum clearances changed the face of Hutchesontown in Glasgow…

Image (enlarge): Hutchesontown C, Gorbals, Glasgow, 1965
Architect: Sir Basil Spence Glover & Ferguson
© Henk Snoek / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Originally an affluent Glasgow suburb, by the 1950s the Gorbals comprised 62 acres of slums with some of the worst residential conditions in Europe. Basil Spence was commissioned to produce 400 new dwellings intended to combat the problems of tenement living.

Inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité de Habitation, Spence designed two concrete blocks of maisonettes, elevated on splayed pilotis and punctuated by double-height balconies that prompted the nickname “The Hanging Gardens of the Gorbals”. Initially successful as families revelled in their new-found space, the perceived brutality of the high-rise environment combined with the social deprivation of the area led to the building’s demolition in 1993.

Article by Justine Sambrook
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Introducing your RIBA Council Student rep

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 03/07/2014 - 16:54

Albena Atanassova (Part II Student, Manchester School of Architecture), RIBA Council Student Member 2013-14

My name is Albena Atanassova and I have held one of the two student seats on RIBA Council since September 2013 after having been elected by RIBA student members to represent the student voice at the RIBA. As the Institute plays an important role as a bridge between students and professionals, I believe that it is of the utmost importance to assist, and interact with, students along their individual architectural paths.

One of the main concerns that troubles students these days is the length of the course and financial hardship caused by it. A minimum of seven years to register can put off many aspiring future architects. With current fees at up to £9,000 pounds per year and UCAS applications down by 2.2% for 2013 undergraduate architecture courses, we should look into ways to prevent architecture from turning into an elitist vocation. It is important that we, as students and future professionals, receive the necessary support to practice talent and creativity within schools of architecture regardless of background and income.

Through this blog, my fellow RIBA Council Student Member Emily Fribbance and I intend to communicate to you what we discuss at Council, and also to get your opinions and ideas so that we can shape the RIBA’s position on current matters in architecture and architectural education. In other words, see this as a platform to express your opinion and help us represent you better. We would like to hear from you with your personal experiences, the challenges you face and look into how the RIBA can help you.

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

We made it! Half-term at the RIBA

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 11:51

Find out from Elizabeth Grant about the exciting events that took place at the RIBA over February half term…

Participant at the RIBA family workshop, February 2014

The RIBA headquarters was buzzing last week as children, young people and families took part in a week of workshops marking the start of The Brits Who Built the Modern World exhibition season and the opening of the new Architecture Gallery at 66 Portland Place.

Workshop participant sketching in the exhibition galleries, RIBA, February 2014

A team of RIBA educators and dedicated student volunteers led workshops for ages 7-18 over the course of the week. The workshops drew on material from the RIBA’s rich collections to investigate key themes of the Brits exhibition. Workshop participants had plenty of opportunity to explore the exhibition and our iconic headquarters while practicing new drawing and model-making skills and techniques.

Workshop participants discussing the exhibition and their work, RIBA, February 2014

On Friday Florence Hall was transformed as reimagined landscapes for three global cities – London, Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro – took shape over the course of the day. Holly, age 11, said her ‘favourite thing was probably thinking about the use of my stadium and how it would look in Rio de Janeiro,’ while Daniel, age 7, said, ‘I enjoyed building my tower because it was fun being creative making stairs and putting all the detail in.’

Talented young designer and her work, Family workshop, RIBA, February 2014

Throughout the week, participants were asked, ‘What is good architecture?’ Here is what our architects of the future think:

Visit our website for listings of upcoming Easter holiday workshops (14-17 April and 22-25 April) and other practical learning opportunities at the RIBA.


Article by Dr Elizabeth Grant
Head of Education and Outreach, British Architectural Library, RIBA

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Final Frame: Oliver Hill’s design for a house in China

RIBA Blogs - Tue, 02/25/2014 - 16:47

Curator Charles Hind looks into the history of a house in China, designed by British architect Oliver Hill in the early 20th century…

Design for a house in Tsinan (now Jinan), China, 1921
Architect: Oliver Hill
© RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections
Image from RIBApix

This house was designed for Peter and Helena Wright, English missionary doctors in China. Helena was Associate Professor of Gynaecology at Shantung Christian University becoming an internationally famous pioneer of birth control and family planning. Oliver Hill, a fashionable country house architect, had known Helena since childhood and they had a long-standing relationship that did not endanger her marriage. The house is in the style of the Edwardian architect Edwin Lutyens, with a Chinese twist.

Article by Charles Hind
Chief Curator, British Architectural Library, RIBA

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Final Frame: Design for York House

RIBA Blogs - Mon, 02/17/2014 - 17:57

Curator Justine Sambrook looks at why a drawing of William Chambers’ proposed design for York House showed it in ruins…

Image (enlarge): Design for York House, Pall Mall, London, 1759
Architect: Sir William Chambers
©RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections
Image from RIBApix

This unexecuted design for a town house for the Duke of York, is one of the first English drawings to represent an interior decoration scheme in colour. Here, William Chambers uses an unusual presentation technique, derived from his studies in Paris, showing his proposal in ruins as if it were an existing building in order to convey a sense of permanence and antiquity.

Sadly, Chambers’ daring method did not impress the duke, who gave the job to the more conservative Matthew Brettingham. Though disappointed – this would have been his first London commission – Chambers went on to become a distinguished government architect.

Article by Justine Sambrook
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Edward Mills

RIBA Blogs - Thu, 02/06/2014 - 15:45

Curator Justine Sambrook on the work by dedicated volunteers to catalogue the photographic archive of architect Edward Mills…

Image (enlarge): ‘Abacus’ screen of coloured balls, Festival of Britain, London, 1951
Architect: Edward David Mills
Photographer: Reginald Hugo de Burgh Galwey
© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

At the end of 2013, the Robert Elwall Photographs Collection completed a ten-year project to catalogue some 10,000 prints, negatives and slides of the work of the architect Edward Mills, given to the RIBA after his death in 1998.

Image (enlarge): May and Baker Limited factory, Dagenham, 1948
Architect: Edward David Mills
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

The collection was catalogued by one of the team’s volunteers who has been travelling in from Devon once a month for a decade to undertake this work! The records she created have been uploaded to the Library catalogue and are now available online. The work of the eight dedicated volunteers, many retired architects, on cataloguing is vital to the Photographs Collection which is a small team and would not be able to keep cataloguing up-to-date without their invaluable efforts in identifying and describing our acquisitions.

Image (enlarge): Colliers Wood Methodist Mission, London, 1937,
Architect: Edward David Mills
Photographer: Sydney W. Newbery
© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Image (enlarge): British Industry Pavilion, World’s Fair, Brussels, 1958
Architect: Edward David Mills
Photographer: John Maltby
© John Maltby / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Mills was one of the pioneers of Modernism in the UK, seeing the movement as a continuation of the practical building practice of the past. He began his career in the office of Maxwell Fry in 1934 before opening his own practice and completing his first solo commission, a Methodist church in Collier’s Wood, in 1937. During WWII he found work expanding the factory of May & Baker, manufacturers of the first commercially available antibiotic, in Dagenham. He became involved in the Festival of Britain at the last minute, squeezing an administration building onto the Southbank site as well as the famous ‘Abacus’ screen. His most well-known building came towards the end of his career in 1975 – the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.

Article by Justine Sambrook
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA


Categories: Latest from the RIBA

More ideas for half term

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 01/31/2014 - 11:31

Our previous post about ideas for what to do in October half term was popular, so here’s another list of five ideas for the upcoming half term of February 2014.


1. Winter watch

Image (enlarge): Bird motif, detail of decorative carving for above a fireplace, 1880s
Designer: Philip Speakman Webb
©RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections
Image from RIBApix

Find an excuse to explore a local park or the countryside, put on your boots and get out those binoculars! Across the country certain species of birds in urban and rural areas will gathering in large flocks, other will have begun singing, joining the growing dawn chorus. In woodlands and gardens go spotting for the first signs of plant life, such as snowdrops, coming up from the cold ground. We hope you also spot the first signs of warmer weather.


2. Exhibitions

There will be new temporary shows throughout the country, but two major architectural exhibitions in London are at the Royal Academy (admission charge) and RIBA (free entry). The RA’s Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined promises displays that will change the way architecture is experienced, whilst the RIBA’s The Brits Who Built The Modern World looks at the fascinating story of why and how British architecture developed globally from 1950 to the present. The RIBA’s exhibition is accompanied by a programme of bookable workshops for children and young adults (see idea number 5).

The list of other museums and galleries to visit would be quite large. But where would architects be without the expertise of engineers? For those who want to discover how things work, there’s the Science Museum in London (free entry), Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester (free entry), Glasgow Science Centre (admission charge) and Birmingham’s Thinktank (admission charge).


3. Draw

Good weather is not guaranteed for outdoor sketching, but if you’re out exploring, sketch what you see on paper or digitally and then re-imagine them. If you need subjects to draw whilst indoors, search RIBApix for beautiful and sometimes quirky images of architecture and design as inspiration. Watch the video above to see a few drawings, created on an iPad, inspired by images from RIBApix and the collections of the RIBA.


4. Cook

Model of the Penguin Pool, London Zoo, made out of gingerbread, by Elizabeth Adams, RIBA

Have you been inspired by TV series The Great British Bake Off? Half term is an ideal time to learn new skills. Have you got what it takes to make the architectural jellies of Bompass & Parr? Or to create your favourite buildings in gingerbread? Of course, you could just bake some nice round cookies – whatever the shape, they’ll still taste great!


5. Workshops

Kids workshop at 66 Portland Place, RIBA, 2013

Build on your creative skills, meet other young architects and designers of the future and combine with a visit to the exhibitions at 66 Portland Place, with the bookable workshops at the RIBA, London.

Throughout half term, between Monday 17 and Friday 21 February, there will be workshops for children and young adults aged between 7 and 18 years old, led by professional educators and artists. Sessions will cover a wide range of activities, including: creating 2D and 3D space-age designs, global icons, engineering and drawing. A free drop-in family event exploring architectural landmarks is taking place Friday 21 February 11am – 2pm. There will also be workshops and a family event for Easter.

We’re not far from Oxford Street, Wellcome Collection, London Zoo and Wallace Collection, so there is plenty to do before or after your visit to us.

So we hope the five suggestions will help with everyone’s planning, though for students and teachers everywhere marking the days off their calendars half term might still seem far off! We wish everyone a happy half term – when it arrives.

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Final Frame: Royal College of Physicians

RIBA Blogs - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 11:47

One of the finest examples of Brutalism, Denys Lasdun’s masterpiece in Regent’s Park celebrates 50 years…

Image (enlarge): Royal College of Physicians, Regent’s Park, London, 1970
Architect: Denys Lasdun & Partners
Photographer: Edwin Smith
© Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Denys Lasdun’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) was completed in 1964, 50 years ago this year. It was built adjacent to the Nash terraces as a precinct intended to further medical science and preserve professional standards. The structure retains a Cubist form with its monumental blank exterior walls made from reinforced concrete, porcelain mosaic and Baggeridge blue rustic facing brick – symbolic of surrounding architecture at the time. Its omission of windows left people to question whether the interior saw any light, though Lasdun cleverly designed roof lighting which allowed key study areas such as the library to be illuminated at all times of day. The RCP has been described as traditional and transitory. Traditional for its function as a ceremonial building designed for the “medical man”, and transitory for its fluid spaces, evolving and reshaping at the same pace as the study of science. Robert Maxwell described Lasdun as an architect who encouraged the power and fragility of tradition and this is certainly exemplified through the functionality this building.

Shiri Webb
Photographer and Digital Imager, British Architectural Library, RIBA

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

A tab too far

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 01/24/2014 - 13:18

What do you use to bookmark pages? 

‘Sources of architectural form’ by Mark Gelernter (Manchester University Press, 1995)

Recently, staff members Claudia and Ahilan spotted this colourfully-festooned volume in the British Architectural Library, RIBA.

As well as index tabs (we don’t encourage their use, they’re fiddly to remove!), we’ve found almost anything flat can become a bookmark: leaflets, train tickets, receipts, postcards and photographs. It’s not uncommon to find small scraps of paper inserted between the pages of well-used books in the library, it’s a far better method than folding the pages.


Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Final Frame: Royal Pavilion, Brighton

RIBA Blogs - Wed, 01/15/2014 - 19:22

Innovative for its time, Brighton’s eastern-style fantasy was designed for royalty by one of Britain’s greatest architects…

Image (enlarge): Royal Pavilion, Brighton, 1960
Architect: John Nash
Photographer: Eric de Maré
© Eric de Maré / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
More images on RIBApix

Built as a seaside retreat for the extravagant Prince Regent, later King George IV, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton grew from a simple farmhouse to a magnificent palace. Converted to the Neo-Classical ‘Marine Pavilion’ by Henry Holland in 1787, the building was soon overshadowed by the creation of an Indian-style stable complex by William Porden in 1808 and the prince began to envisage increased grandeur.

In 1815 John Nash began the seven-year transformation of the pavilion into the splendid oriental structure we know today, using new technology to superimpose a cast-iron frame with domes and minarets onto the existing façade.

Article by Justine Sambrook
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA

Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Happy 150th birthday Charing Cross station

RIBA Blogs - Fri, 01/10/2014 - 15:14

Through the Periodicals Collections of the RIBA, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charing Cross and look at the history of a microcosm of London…

Image (enlarge): Charing Cross Hotel and Eleanor Cross, London, in 1872
Architect: Edward Middleton Barry
Photographer: Horatio Nelson King
©RIBA Library Photographs Collection. Image from RIBApix

When the first train arrived for service – on  time – on 11th January 1864 at the platforms of Charing Cross station (1), it must have seemed that the metropolis was being inundated by railways. This was a year after the first underground line began operating, Kings Cross station had opened only two years earlier and Euston station was by then almost seven years old. Built at great expense, Charing Cross station was described as “one of the most remarkable works” in London (2).

Image (enlarge): Hungerford Market, Charing Cross, London, 1833
Architect: Charles Fowler
©RIBA Library Drawings Collection. Image from RIBApix

This riverside site was originally occupied by Hungerford Market and working-class housing (3) and connected to the opposite bank of the Thames by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s suspension bridge, all demolished to make way for the station and Hungerford Bridge designed by John Hawkshaw. Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge reused some of the iron chains from Brunel’s bridge. The appearance of the station soon altered with completion of the Charing Cross Hotel and Eleanor Cross in 1865 (4).

Embankment Place, London.
Architect: Terry Farrell & Company
Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2013

The 20th century brought more changes. The station played a vital role in the war effort during World War I by moving troops and supplies, and suffered considerable bomb damage during World War II (5). Behind the hotel and above the station is Embankment Place, a Postmodern-style office block completed in 1990. The 18 pillars visible on the station platforms support nine storeys of office space (6).

Lights fittings and pillars on the platforms of Charing Cross station
Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2013

The result of these interventions is a dense and open neighbourhood with a varied architecture and catering for the many different desires and needs of visitors and Londoners: to the north, on the Strand, is the French Renaissance-style hotel forming the station’s main entrance and façade; to the east is the busy commercial area of Villiers Street; the south is dominated by the bridges crossing the Thames and the stepped arches of Farrell’s office block; and on the west is Craven Street, which retains the quiet and genteel atmosphere of 18th-century London which would have been familiar to Benjamin Franklin.

In recent years other stations like St Pancras and Kings Cross have taken more attention. But they should. Charing Cross was never a ‘lost’ part of London that has been recently rediscovered. For 150 years it has continually served the busy West End and beyond. Happy birthday Charing Cross!



  1. Opening of the Charing-cross railway. Building News, 1864 January 15th, p.43
  2. Opening of the Charing-cross railway. Building News, 1863 December 4th, p.913
  3. Charing-Cross Railway. Building News. 1862 November 14th, p.380
  4. Restoration of Charing Cross. Building News, 1864 February 12th
  5. Jackson, A. A., 1985. London’s Termini, 2nd ed. Newton Abbott: David & Charles, pp.243-66
  6. Embankment Place. ARUP Journal, 1991 Spring, pp. 4-9


Categories: Latest from the RIBA

Periodicals Collection: 1913 vs. 2013

RIBA Blogs - Tue, 12/31/2013 - 15:43

Another news-filled year of architectural successes and carbuncles has been added to the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection, a growing record of over 150 years of architectural history. So, how does 2013 compare to the past?

Library of Birmingham, opened in September 2013.
Photograph by Wilson Yau

Has 2013 been a good year for architecture? In the architectural press there was evidence of an active architectural scene with reports of the opening of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery designed by Zaha Hadid, Mecanoo’s Library of Birmingham and Denton Corker Marshall’s visitor centre at Stonehenge.

Image (enlarge): Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain
Photographer: Edwin Smith
© Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

This also year saw the restoration of Kenwood House and Tate Britain. But then again, there was another depressing set of contenders for the Building Design’s annual Carbuncle Cup.

Image (enlarge): Tate Britain, London, 1965
Architect: Sidney Robert James Smith
Photographer: Sam Lambert
© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Perhaps a look at the past might help us frame the way we look at our current situation. At the back of a rather well-preserved 100-year-old volume of the Architects’ and Builders’ Journal (we know it today as the Architects’ Journal) at the RIBA, is a supplement with the notable architectural events of 1913. It recorded the great act of generosity by Sir William Lever, the industrialist and philanthropist, who presented Stafford House (now Lancaster House) to the nation. Then there was the passing of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act, which meant that finally strong laws were in place to protect Britain’s heritage. And throughout the year, projects or various sizes and purposes were completed, now all celebrating their centenary; some of those listed in the journal include:

  • Woolworth Building, New York
    Architect: Cass Gilbert 
  • The façade of Buckingham Palace
    Architect: Aston Webb
  • Middlesex Guildhall, Westminster
    Architects: Gibson, Skipworth & Gordon
  • Institution of Civil Engineers, Westminster
    James Miller
  • King’s College Hospital, Denmark Hill
    William A. Pite
  • New King’s building, University of Aberdeen
    Marshall Mckenzie and Son
  • Mappin Terraces, London Zoo
    Architects: John Belcher and John James Joass
  • Peace Palace, Hague
    Architect: Louis-Marie Cordonnier

Image (enlarge): Middlesex Guildhall, London, 1911
Architect: Gibson, Skipworth & Gordon
© RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection
Image from RIBApix

The Woolworth Building was praised as being remarkable, in comparison the design of the Peace Palace was considered regrettable by the same journal. These and their contemporaries have had a century for adaption, tastes to change, and mistakes to be corrected and forgotten. Whilst excluding the nominated ‘carbuncles’, our new constructions, if given time, might gain the affection from the public that most older buildings enjoy. Some of the successful high-profile restorations and new openings of 2013 were made possible with support from public bodies, aid that was largely absent in the early 20th century. Until the summer of 1913, there was little protection for buildings from drastic alteration or destruction by their owners. Current laws have permitted the listing this year of the likes of Preston Bus Station and saved them from demolition. 

Image (enlarge): Preston Bus Station, 1970
Architects: Building Design Partnership and Keith Ingham
Photographer: Peter Baistow
© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix

Already 2013 compares well to events a century ago. As with 1913, more time will enable a better assessment of 2013. The potential is there for future periodicals to report differently about what’s been achieved in the last twelve months and being criticised today, for example, will we ever read news of protests against the unsympathetic alterations to the Walkie Talkie or new developments blocking historic views of the Shard? It’s hard to stomach, but time may even mean the reassessment of the nominations for the 2013 Carbuncle Cup.


Categories: Latest from the RIBA

RIBA Future Trends Survey results for March 2013

RIBA News - Wed, 05/01/2013 - 11:16
The Royal Institute of British Architects has published the results of the March 2013 Future Trends Survey.
Categories: Latest from the RIBA
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