Happy end to an overlong unhappy saga
A felicitous note on which to bow out as president: that must have been the thought in David Rock's mind this week as he signed the agreement in principle to relocate the riba's special collections to the Victoria & Albert Museum. For the V&A's director, Alan Borg, it was another occasion demonstrating his role as a patron of architecture. Indeed the likely construction of the Daniel Libeskind 'Spiral' building, strongly supported by Borg, has in part triggered off the possibility of moving the Drawings Collection to South Kensington. Now RIBA members will have free access not just to their own collections, but to the entire V&A - there is something for everyone in this deal. Although only in principle at this stage, the deal nevertheless incorporates detailed essential thinking about who will pay for what.
The story of the collections is in some ways a curious one. In 1970 the riba announced with a great fanfare that the drawings would move to Portman Square where a lease had been negotiated. Under the inspired curatorship of John Harris the collection flourished - and became very much an independent fiefdom, given little resource by head office (at least for purchases) and therefore finding its own sources of funding, particularly the Heinz family, both for purchases and for a consistent exhibition programme.
But institutions do not like fiefdoms, and by the early 1980s there were moves to bring back the drawings to Portland Place, reuniting them with the Library. This resulted in years of frustration as schemes involving major building works were proposed, funding being sought but not found either at home or abroad. The last chapter in this saga came with the abortive attempt to convert the Roundhouse in Camden with the help of Lottery funding: an excellent scheme scuppered for reasons which have never satisfactorily been explained. That was two years ago, and it seemed that a rather miserable story could carry on for another decade. In the event (and not least thanks to the efforts of Rod Hackney and Max Hutchinson), a brilliant compromise has been found. Congratulations are in order.