The Royal Institute of British Architects was founded in 1834 and exists to ‘promote interest in and knowledge of civil architecture’. Uniquely, it combines the functions of a professional institute with the ownership of the de facto national collections for architecture in Britain. Its library of books, journals, and four million drawings, archive items and photographs is central to its work and it has always acquired models, although until the 1950s, with little active enthusiasm.

Until the 20th century, the RIBA accepted donations of models rather than sought to collect them and these were of existing buildings, such as Stonehenge, the Temple at Edfu, Egypt, and a plaster model of the medieval Salisbury Cathedral. None of these models is known to survive today. Although the RIBA was committed to the training of architects in recognized schools and qualifications through examination, there is little evidence that it saw a need to build up a models collection in the same way as it was certainly committed to building up reference collections of drawings, archives and photographs: contemporary models only appeared in the RIBA’s rooms to illustrate lectures or as part of temporary exhibitions.

The first design models arrived in 1881, when the RIBA was bequeathed the models for the Constitution Arch and the Hyde Park Screen, London, by their architect Decimus Burton. However, no models given before 1950 survive in the collections and their fate is unknown. It was not until the mid-1950s that a vigorous new collecting policy led to the huge expansion of the collections. The RIBA now has well over three hundred models, ranging in date from 1694 to the present day, the vast majority by gift but some by purchase. Models created as part of the design process are preferred but exceptions are made for some presentation models.

Name of Institutional representative in network: 

Charles Hind, Lisa Nash

Institution location: 

London, UK