Competition design for the Royal Institute of British Architects

Competition design for the Royal Institute of British Architects

This drawing is one of 3600 designs submitted by 284 entrants in the competition to design a new and permanent home for the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects). In March 1929 the RIBA acquired a 999-year lease from the Howard de Walden Estate for a site on Portland Place, London. In June of that year, the Premises Committee recommended holding a design competition open to RIBA members and students in Great Britain and overseas. The announcement of competition guidelines in April 1931 set the profession on edge. A March 1932 RIBA circular predicted, '…the war between modernist and traditionalist may be expected to burst into unequalled fury whatever the result may be.'

In May 1932 the RIBA declared G. Grey Wornum the winner. Although not without its critics, many agreed that Wornum's design succeeded in its plan and, most notably, its section. In slotting together cubic spaces around a central staircase, Wornum's building could convey 500 people to and from the Meeting Room and the Exhibition Gallery without corridors or the use of a lift. Max Fry acknowledged the design's outstanding merit in the 'imaginative handling of the staircase levels which command views both upward and downward of great richness and complexity.' The large central window overlooking Portland Place and echoed in the window over the first-floor Exhibition Hall add to a sense of transparency and light, emphasized by rays of natural light etched into this section drawing.

Following World War II, Wornum prepared plans to rebuild 68 Portland Place and to add two additional floors to his original building. The plans were executed between 1955-1958 by Wornum's former partner Edward Playne of Playne and Lacey. Wornum retired from the project due to ill health in 1957 and died in 1958.