On 13 February, the Royal Institute of British Architects officially opens its new Architecture Gallery in the Grade II listed Art Deco 66 Portland Place. The gallery will feature regular, free exhibitions exploring the built environment and act as a space in which to show off its unparalleled collections — over four million drawings, books, models and photographs in museum-quality conditions.
The debut exhibition covers ‘The Brits Who Built the Modern World’, a fascinating look at the rise of British architecture from 1950s Modernism to the incredible ‘High Tech’ buildings epitomised by the Pompidou Centre in Paris or the Lloyd’s Building in London (both by Richard Rogers). The exhibition ties in with the BBC TV series of the same name, which starts on BBC4 on 13 February.
The exhibition chiefly examines the contributions of Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Nicholas Grimshaw, Terry Farrell and Patty and Michael Hopkins to the rise of 21st century British architecture. It also charts the evolution of British architectural design movements, starting in the 1950s, with continental Modernism, heavily influenced by Le Corbusier and Scandinavian design. Think structures such as the Skylon at the 1951 Festival of Britain, and the innovative use of concrete in Brutalism.
Later developments saw the rejection of these continental ideas for the rise of the High-Tech or ‘industrial’ style, as seen in the skyline of the City, and in Rogers and Piano’s revolutionary ‘fun palace’ design for the Pompidou. This revolution in architecture has since been successfully exported around the world, such as the Reichstag in Berlin and the Peak Tower in Hong Kong.
There is a lot to see and take in — sketches, drawings, plans, models, film clips — but the excitement of the imagination and innovation is immediate.
Upstairs, 17 new and soon-to-be completed international projects by British architects are on display in the exhibition ‘New British Voices’, mapping the future of British architecture and examining the factors that lie behind the strength of UK design industries. Could it be the weather?
The Brits Who Built the Modern World in the Architecture Gallery and New British Voices — Today and Tomorrow in RIBA’s Gallery 1 continue at RIBA until 27 May. Admission: Free.