A brief history of the Royal Institution of British Architects

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) promotes better buildings and how architecture can help and enrich the environment. It provides standards for architects and architectural training. The RIBA aims to improve building design for public, private and community buildings.


The RIBA receives no government funding. It is funded by its members, sponsors and charitable organisations.

Founding of the RIBA

The RIBA has a long history. The Institute was founded in 1834. Its original aim was:

‘…the general advancement of Civil Architecture, and for promoting and facilitating the acquirement of the knowledge of the various arts and sciences connected therewith…’

The Royal Charter for the institute was granted in 1837 by the Privy Council during the reign of King William IV.

The early work of the RIBA focused on fees, practice standards and ethics for architects. The RIBA is still concerned with these areas, but its activities have widened to include training, architecture prizes, publishing and promotion of excellence in architecture. It is also lobbies the government on architectural issues.


The Royal Gold Medal

In 1848, the Royal Gold Medal award was created. The original idea for the medal was discussed in 1846 when it was decided that the medal would be a prize given for an architectural competition for the institute’s new headquarters. Though the office of Queen Victoria gave royal approval for the medal, only 11 entries were received for the competition, none of which were deemed good enough for the prize.

After consultation with Prince Albert, it was decided to repurpose the medal and award it to distinguished architects for work of high merit, or for some distinguished person whose work has promoted, either directly or indirectly, the advancement of architecture.

In modern times the Royal Gold Medal has been given to architects for a body of work rather than a single building. Past winners include such names as:

•    Le Corbusier
•    Frank Gehry
•    Archigram
•    Frei Otto
•    Toyo Ito
•    Herzog and de Meuron
•    Edward (Ted) Cullinan
•    Alvaro Siza
•    I.M. Pei
•    Sir David Chipperfield
•    Herman Hertzberger
•    Peter Zumthor

The Royal Gold Medal is produced by the Royal Mint, and is one of just 25 Royal Medals awarded each year.


In 1894, the first RIBA journal was published. Still available today, it is widely regarded as the UK’s leading magazine on architecture. As well as the print edition, the journal has an extensive online edition.

Books have always been very much the backbone of the RIBA. Its headquarters also feature a bookshop with a large collection of books relevant to architecture. The RIBA publishes its own books on architecture and buildings. With the advent of the internet, books can be ordered online and shipped worldwide.

New headquarters

As the RIBA expanded, its Conduit Street headquarters became too small. It created a competition for the design for a new headquarters at Portland Place. The winning entry was designed by George Grey Warnum. Warnum was influenced in his design by Ragnar Östberg’s Stockholm Town Hall and Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm City Library.

The building work started in 1933, and in 1934, the RIBA moved to its new purpose-built headquarters at 66 Portland Place in London, in time for its 100th anniversary. The building was opened by King George V and Queen Mary.

A second phase of the headquarters, also designed by Warnum, was opened in 1958

In the 1960s, the RIBA decided to open a number or regional offices, the first of which was in Cambridge in 1966.

150th Anniversary and the ‘monstrous carbuncle’

In 1984, the RIBA celebrated its 150th anniversary. The guest speaker was Prince Charles, who made his famous ‘monstrous carbuncle’ speech. Commenting on the proposed development for the Trafalgar Square area, he said:

“What is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.”

The Stirling Prize

In 1996, the RIBA instigated the Stirling Prize for outstanding architecture. Recognised as the most prestigious architecture award in Britain, the 2015 award was won by the new Burntwood School building in Wandsworth, London.
This year, the 21st prize was given to London’s Newport Street Gallery, a series of connected buildings used as an art gallery.

The Architectural Gallery

In 2014, the RIBA opened its architectural gallery. It was opened by six leading architects: Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw, Terry Farrell, and Michael and Patty Hopkins

The gallery is an exhibition space featuring the best of British architecture. The RIBA plans for exhibitions at the gallery to tour the world to highlight the excellence of British architecture.

The gallery has a permanent exhibition created in conjunction with the Victoria & Albert Museum that tells the story of world architecture over 2,500 years.


The RIBA is a big supporter of quality training and offers a varied program of CPD courses for architects.

Students studying architecture at degree level must complete courses that follow the RIBA levels 1 & 2 training and are provided at university by RIBA validated trainers.

The present structure

The present president of the RIBA is Jane Duncan, who was elected in 2015 for a two-year term. RIBA ambassadors work with the president to champion topics relevant to architects, raising issues and promote discussion with both professional and public audiences.

Working under the president are a team of executives and senior staff. The RIBA fellowship members are charter members who are recognised as having contributed to the profession of architecture,

The future

The RIBA has a long history, but is not stuck in the past. Indeed, it is always looking to the future of architecture.


This year, it produced a briefing on how architecture could be affected by Britain leaving the common market, and is determined to be a strong voice in the Brexit negotiations. Furthermore, the RIBA Future Trends Survey is published monthly and monitors the latest developments in architecture.

D2 Architects is a full member of the RIBA and recognises the value of the organisation’s promotion of excellence in British architecture.

Posted by Mark
November 3, 2016

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