Time to make a decision on RIBA drawings collection
When did you last visit the drawings collection at the RIBA? This unrivalled resource remains barely accessible, and grossly under-used. News that it could be making a move to the Victoria and Albert Museum seemed like a godsend: a chance to cement an association with a revered institution, combined with the potential to open up the collection to a much wider audience - since the reinstatement of free admission, visitor numbers have soared. Now, however, a heavyweight group of architects - including three RIBA past presidents and three Stirling Prize winners - is suggesting that the Royal Academy would be a more appropriate home. Their case rests on the argument that the RA and the RIBA are closely linked organisations with a shared emphasis on drawing. As an RA resource, the collection would not be a museum exhibit, but rather a working tool at the service of a specialist community which already knows its worth.
In many ways this is a false distinction which does an injustice to both the RA and the V&A. The V&A is an evolving cultural institution which has long since rejected the notion of the museum as a sterile repository for exhibits. The RA is adept at bringing architecture to a wider audience: the AJ/Bovis Royal Academy Awards are the UK's most high-profile awards for architectural drawing and the architecture room at the RA Summer Show is one of the most effective means of introducing the public to the delights of architectural drawing.
Both institutions have the ability to realise the collection's potential both as resource and exhibit. But any expression of interest from the RA should be greeted with open arms. Not because it is necessarily a more appropriate curator, but because a degree of rivalry will force both institutions to clarify their intentions as to promotion, presentation, and accessibility.Which means that the RIBA, rather than desperately searching for a saviour, will be in a position to make an informed and speedy decision as to its aspirations for the collection. Uncertainty over the collection's future has rumbled on for long enough.