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The RIBA and V&A - a marriage under threat?

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The battle to reopen negotiations over the future home of the RIBA drawings collection stepped up a gear this week. Is this a case of cold feet, or are there valid concerns about a move to the Victoria and Albert Museum, asks Steven Palmer As exclusively revealed last week (AJ 31.1.02), a group of eminent architects has called for the RIBA to reconsider the decision to move its drawings collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum - and consider a move to the Royal Academy instead.

The list of architects supporting a reassessment of the situation includes Lords Foster and Rogers, Sir Richard MacCormac, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, Michael Manser, Will Alsop and Piers Gough.

This week the key issues that led to this call gradually leaked out. The AJ understands that there are concerns at a lack of top-level support at the V&A for the move.

There are also worries over continuing bureaucratic hurdles, which have slowed the process and increased the costs. Many supporters of the RA believe the V&A cannot offer adequate space, while the RA could offer more space at a cheaper price.

One supporter of the RA option, who wished to remain anonymous, told the AJ that support for the academy also came from a belief that it 'would be honoured to house such a collection'.And that it would also 'be a better match' due to its experience of putting on architectural exhibitions.

'It would be treated as an outstanding feature, ' he told the AJ.

Such a collection would have an immense impact on the RA's raison d'etre - but at the V&A it would be just one more fabulous collection among a group of other fabulous collections.'

Will Alsop agreed and added: 'Lots of people go to the V&A - if the drawings were there, people would just stumble over them.

I think we should know exactly what the V&A is actually offering.'

The desire to reconsider the Royal Academy has grown since it acquired the Museum of Mankind on Burlington Gardens, which would offer enough space to house the collection - one of the factors that had excluded the Academy four years ago.

Ex-RIBA president Michael Manser told the AJ: 'The RA has not made a formal approach - but it won't unless invited. There is a group of prominent architects here that are interested in exploring some options for the collection. It is for council to decide on whether that dialogue should be opened.'

He added that any move would have to come from the RIBA, but that he did not want to see the V&A deal immediately jettisoned.

Another anonymous source told the AJ:

'Nobody wants to upset any apple carts, but we need to know if the RA would take it and whether the RIBA would be willing to change horses mid-stream. It's a tragedy of timing - if the RA had the space earlier it could have gone to them.Historically the RA was always first choice.'

However, Rick Mather, who is also a trustee of the V&A, said: 'The V&A wants the collection very much and would offer it a good home - both places are suitable. The big question is how committed the RIBA is to the V&A.'

Rod Hackney, another RIBA ex-president and member of the presidential steering committee for the drawings collection and the V&A liaison committee, was unequivocal.

'There is no question of stopping this - no ambiguity. The RA is not an alternative - nor would it ever have been. The V&A was there in our hour of need four years ago. It is a perfect partner, a marriage that will work well, and we have made commitments to it. We can't just back out now because some bright new thing has arrived on the scene.'

He added that London was a 'small town' and that a reputation as a 'two-timer' would be disastrous for the RIBA's future deals. 'We need a body that can curate our collection - the V&A is ideal. It will make the collection more accessible to the public, ' he said.

Claims that it was a 'done deal' did not silence RA supporters though. 'I don't want to see the collection suffer because some people in the RIBA have moved a certain distance down one road, and are too scared to look at options - that's just daft, ' said Alsop.

He said he believed that a move to the RA would allow the collection to grow and that it would be better protected as there are many architect members of the RA that would 'look out for the collection and protect it'.

The level of dissatisfied muttering seems to be growing; the question is how much would this case of cold feet cost the RIBA - in reputation and cash.

WHAT IS THE DRAWINGS COLLECTION?

It is the largest collection of British architectural drawings in the world. It includes more than 600,000 drawings.The V&A would also house the manuscripts and archives collection, which accounts for a further 700,000 items.

It includes works from the Renaissance to the present day and contains drawings by foreign architects, most notably nearly 300 designs and sketches by Andrea Palladio.

The collection was founded in 1834 but the earliest drawing in the collection dates back to 1520. There are also 10,000 architectural engravings, portraits and busts of architects, models, drawing instruments, drawing office furniture and medals housed in the collection.

KEY DATES 1834 Institute of British Architects founded and library established 1837 Institute receives royal charter 1838 First major collection of continental drawings acquired - the Drummond Stewart collection 1897 Burlington-Devonshire collection acquired 1934 The RIBA and collections move to a new headquarters at Portland Place 1971 The RIBA acquires lease on Portman Square and drawings collection moves there 1972 Heinz Gallery opens in Portman Square - first purpose-designed architectural gallery 1995 Roundhouse project launched.

Michael Hopkins designs Roundhouse in Camden as a home for the drawings collection 1997 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) turns down funding application for the Roundhouse.RIBA collection development study carried out by KPMG/L&R to consider the future care of the collection 1998 Joint study by the RIBA and V&A to see how V&A would house collections 1999 In June the RIBA and V&A sign an agreement in principle for a new home for the collection 2000 Wright & Wright appointed as architect for V&A study room, storage facility, teaching room, conservation and education room and a staff room 2000 Access All Areas joint exhibition - the RIBA and V&A architectural items displayed May to December 2001 Gareth Hoskins Architects appointed as designer of the architecture gallery at the V&A 2001 In December an application for funding from the HLF is submitted 2004 V&A gallery due to open

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