riba council wholeheartedly commended actions taken to secure a new home for the Special Collections (aj 17/24.12.98), with much of the credit going to former honorary librarian Rod Hackney (above) and his predecessor James Thomas.
President David Rock said details of the move were not yet firmly cast in stone, and there was concern from some councillors that the riba might be losing its control of the £350 million resource - a 'symbiotic relationship' with the v&a was essential, they said. However, a major change from the terms of the initial deal is that the riba will now retain ownership of the collections, with the sister trust taking responsibility for their management and care.
Claire Frankl said the moves were of 'incredible importance', being possibly the most exciting step taken by the Institute in the last 20 years, and admitted that she had been 'deeply sceptical' about whether any partners had common interests or money. The v&a was the 'perfect partner' in providing public accessibility to the collections. 'We must run with this as fast as we can to make it happen,' she said.
There was also concern that the Institute should have a fall-back position. 'Rather than put our eggs all in one basket, we've got some other baskets as well,' said Rock. Roger Zogolovitch recommended 'going in light-handed and flexible'.
Hackney told councillors about how the deal had developed. The institute had been offered accommodation in Swindon for the collections, but public access was a problem since it was 'away from the main trek'. Discussions had been well advanced at the British Library - where there 'may be something in the future' - but the Tate was wrong in timescale terms. v&a director Alan Borg said he wanted to give architecture the place it had in the nineteenth century - it was a 'unique opportunity' to pool resources and create a Centre for Architectural Studies.
Council was also given a copy of a final report, 'A vision and identity for the riba special collections', by Peter Hampel - who is now working on the Nicholas Grimshaw-designed Eden project. Hampel recommends re-branding the 'special collections' as the 'riba collections' and to go into the negotiations with 'a clearly communicable long-term vision'. The report adds that, given the richness of the resource material, the audience could be broadened considerably 'if the identity and vision for the collections was promoted more broadly', especially as the interest in architecture is 'increasing across a broad cross-section of the community'.