Portland Place, London

  • 66 - 68 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD
  • Designed by: George Grey Wornum
  • Built: 1933 - 1934/1957 - 1958
  • Tags: Art Deco, Headquarters, Office

Between 1957 and 1958 the Royal Institute of British Architects extended its existing headquarters at 66 Portland Place in Central London to meet the expanding accommodation requirements of the organisation. The extensions - both upwards and outwards - were designed to harmonise with the existing Modernist building, designed by British architect George Grey Wornum. His design for 66 Portland Place was implemented between 1933, when the foundation stone was laid by the 8th Baron Howard de Walden on 28 June, and 1934 when the building was officially opened on 8 November by King George V and Queen Mary.

Wornum's design for 66 Portland Place saw the construction of a large, six storey building occupying a corner plot. The building extends for three bays along Portland Place, and extends deeply for eleven bays down Weymouth Street. Outwardly the building appears to be built of Portland Stone, but it is in reality built around a steel-frame and reinforced concrete core. The ground floor facade on both elevations has rusticated stonework beneath a plain architrave. There are double height windows to the first and second storeys on both elevations, with smaller square windows to the third floor and fifth floors. The front elevation has a large window in the central bay, extending to the third storey. There is a balcony on the third storey along Weymouth Street. The Portland Place elevation features a bas-relief figure titled 'Architectural Aspiration', while on the Weymouth Street elevation are five bas-relief figures of a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer and a working man; all by the South African-born British sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973).

Just as in the 1920s when the RIBA outgrew its previous headquarters on London's Conduit Street, so in the 1950s the RIBA was starting to outgrow 66 Portland Place. In 1957 the building was extended to include an additional two floors, to provide more space for offices and administrative functions. The exterior of the additional floors is clad in Portland Stone to match the original building. These floors are stepped back from the main facade on both elevations. The Weymouth Street facade has five central bays with a continuous balcony, similar to Wornum's original.

Looking at 66 Portland Place elevation today, its non-symmetrical appearance seems puzzling. The block to the left of 66 Portland Place, although similar, throws the appearance of 66 Portland Place out of balance. The reason is explained by the history of the building's development. In 1958 the RIBA extended into the adjacent No 68 Portland Place, to the left of 66 Portland Place. The original building at 68 Portland Place was a four storey Georgian building. The facade comprised four bays, with the ground floor having rusticated stonework, and brickwork for the remaining floors. The building was extensively remodelled to match with Wornum's design for the RIBA's original building at 66 Portland Place.

The 1958 annex is a three-bay fronted, six storey property. The ground floor, clad in Portland Stone, has a rusticated facade. The remaining storeys are clad in plain Portland Stone. There are double height windows at the first and second floor storeys with balconettes on the second floor storey. The windows above to the third, fourth and fifth storeys are smaller. The fourth storey of 68 Portland Place has windows, unlike 66 Portland Place. The roof-line is capped with an architrave, matching that on 66 Portland Place. The whole facade is stepped back slightly to distinguish the facades of the two buildings.

Together 66-68 Portland Place serves as the current headquarters of the RIBA, the professional body for architects in the United Kingdom, with a membership of over 40,000. Founded in 1834, the RIBA received its Royal Charter in 1837. The RIBA offers support and training to its membership and plays an important role seeking to inform and influence government policy. More widely the RIBA runs a public programme, using 66-68 Portland Place as an exhibition and 'Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions', or MICE, venue. The building also houses an architecture bookshop, a café, bar and restaurant.

66-68 Portland Place was awarded Grade II* status on 14 September 1970. It was one of the first buildings of Modernist Britain to achieve listed status.

Read our profile of 66 Portland Place for a history of the building, photographs and our banner illustration of 66 Portland Place as built.

References

  • Greenwood, Thomas (2012) 66 Portland Place self guide London: RIBA Library and Information Centre

Posted by Richard Coltman on Saturday, December 15, 2012

A celebration of Modernist architecture in Britain