RIBA Headquarters, London

Standing on the corner of Portland Place and Weymouth Street near to London's Regents Park, 66 Portland Place is an impressive Art Deco office building serving as the headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The RIBA, founded in 1834, is the professional body for architects in the United Kingdom. The RIBA received its Royal Charter in 1837. Today the organisation has a membership of over 40,000 professionals. The RIBA offers support and training to its membership, it seeks to inform and influence government policy, and has a public programme of different activities from exhibitions to talks.

Since 1859 the RIBA had been headquartered at 9 Conduit Street (now a trendy restaurant), just off Regent Street in London. However, the RIBA had outgrown the building and in 1929 a competition was announced inviting submissions for a new headquarters for the RIBA, to be completed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the organisation. By 1932, some 284 submissions had been received by the RIBA. The winning design was by British architect George Grey Wornum.

George Grey Wornum as born on 17 April 1888 and entered architectural practice in 1906. In 1916, whilst serving with the Artist Rifles (a regiment of the British Army originally formed in 1859 by volunteers from the creative arts) in the First World War, Wornum was seriously injured. He suffered leg injuries and lost his right eye. He resumed architectural practice after the war and in 1929 submitted plans to the RIBA. In 1950 Wornum produced plans for remodelling Parliament Square in Central London. Today the layout of Parliament Square is much as it was in Wornum's plans. George Grey Wornum died on 11 June 1957 in New York.

The foundation stone of 66 Portland Place was laid by Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden on 28 June 1933. The building was officially opened on 8 November 1934 by King George V and Queen Mary. The building has continued to serve as the headquarters of the RIBA. However, the RIBA's 2012 business plan, titled 'Opportunities and ambition' highlights the "potential procurement of new premises requires a full feasibility study in 2012".

66 Portland Place is a large, six storey building occupying a corner plot on Portland Place and Weymouth Street. The building uses a steel-frame and reinforced concrete construction. The exterior is clad in Portland Stone. The main entrance, with heavy, bronze double doors, is located on Portland Place. The facade comprises three bays, the central bay wider than the outer bays. The ground floor has rusticated stonework beneath a plain architrave. The outer bays have double height windows to the first and second storeys, with smaller square windows to the third floor. The central bay has a large, rectangular window surrounded by a simple, moulded architrave extending to the third storey. The bronze glazing bars criss-cross the window forming small panes of glass, with window blanks corresponding to the third floor. Above, the facade of the fourth storey is blank with smaller square windows to the fifth floor on the outer bays. Centrally is a bas-relief figure titled 'Architectural Aspiration' by the South African-born British sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973).

66 Portland Place extends deeply down Weymouth Street, with two asymmetric outer bays and nine equally-spaced inner bays. The ground floor has a rusticated facade beneath a plain architrave, and above there are double height windows between the first and second storeys. The third floor has windows across the central nine bays, with a continuous balcony with cast-iron balustrade. The fourth storey has a blank facade; their are no windows but decoration is provided by five bas-relief figures, again by Edward Bainbridge Copnall. The figures represent a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer and a working man. The fifth floor has smaller, square windows.

On the Portland Place frontage are two columns either side of the entrance, topped with sculptures depicting the spirit of man and woman as creative forces of architecture. These were designed by British sculptor James Woodford (1893-1976), who also designed the bronze doors to the building, each weighing 1½ tons.

George Grey Wornum also worked as an interior designer, and his later works included interiors for the Cunard White-Star Line's RMS Queen Elizabeth (1940-1968) (interesting sculptors Edward Bainbridge Copnall and James Woodford were also commissioned by Cunard-White Star Line and produced works for both the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth). Wornum's interior scheme for 66 Portland Place included a striking, large, central staircase.

66 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 66-68 Portland Place to learn about the second phase of development of the building, photographs and our banner illustration of 66-68 Portland Place.

References

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

Posted by Richard Coltman on Monday, June 11, 2012

A celebration of Modernist architecture in Britain