Art Deco Heaven: Inside RIBA London
Cutting a fine shape at 66 Portland Place is the head quarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Built 1933-34, it was one of the first modernist buildings to achieve Grade II* listed status. Really though, the magic is inside. I joined a tour in search of Art Deco heaven…
As you enter, look up to spot to sculptures atop columns. They show a man and woman as creative ‘spirits’ of architecture, designed by British sculptor James Woodford.
‘Advancement of Architecture’
RIBA was founded in 1834 for the ‘advancement of architecture’, exactly 100 years before the Portland Place premises was realised. Today it’s comprised of over 40,000 professional architects, offering training for them, but also a programme of events for enthusiasts. It also and represents architectural interests on a government level, seeking to inform and influence policy.
The symbol of RIBA is the lion rampant (upright with its forepaws raised). It can be spotted all over the building.
Built for architects by architects, the building was designed by George Grey Wornum. Based around a steel frame and clad in Portland stone, the corner position of the former townhouse allows for some extraordinary spaces inside.
Light streams into The Florence Hall through floor-to-ceiling windows.
The light throws into focus the carved limestone walls, covered in images of craftsmen, celebrating the stone masons, carpenters and metalworkers that contribute to a building’s design.
The RIBA Café is also bathed in clean light and (happily!) is open to the public.
In contrast you have some of the boardrooms, popular for small conferences and board meetings, like the Aston Webb room below.
What might appear to look like wood panelled walls, is actually leather. The yellowish brown has appeared after years of cigarette smoke stains!
If that sounds unpleasant, the room certainly isn’t. Windows overlooking Portland Place let natural light stream in and an otherwise dark, atmospheric, room is light and airy.
Every good interior requires a showstopper feature. At RIBA, the staircase doesn’t disappoint;
The other aspects you notice about 66 Portland Place are the utmost care and attention given over to every detail.
From the flecked gold marble in the double height entrance hall,
To the depictions of craftsmen in the Florence Hall.
Also in the Florence Hall is this elaborate carved wooden screen. It shows flora and fauna from Commonwealth nations, can you spot the kangaroo?!
Some of the details are historic too. On the tour I was pointed out the War memorial for RIBA members. If you look to the top right you’ll seen a replacement brass plaque. It seems someone managed to cheat death!
Remember we saw the Aston Webb – and it’s smoke-stained walls – earlier? Well here’s further evidence of the habit. Ash trays were a very necessary accessory in mid century buildings.
If you fancy having a look around this building yourself, the RIBA Cafe and library are open to the public every day. You can also find out more about tours and venue hire here.