We were very interested to read John Harris’s combative commentary (Art Newspaper, No.111, February 2001, p.16) on the use made by architects of historic documentary material. We are pleased that he has drawn attention to the partnership between the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), especially as we are fund-raising actively to establish a joint location for parts of our collections, but should point out that some of his assumptions are out-of-date.
As Mr Harris notes, an Architectural Policy Advisory Group has been set up to establish exactly what should be happening at the V&A in the light of its partnership with the RIBA. We are presently consulting a large number of institutions and individuals (including Mr Harris) on what can and should be done about architecture at South Kensington, where we strongly believe we can provide a focus for the understanding and enjoyment of architecture.
There is an obvious need to give far greater access to the joint V&A/RIBA collections in South Kensington and the RIBA's HQ in Portland Place through exhibitions and education programmes. Activities in both locations will be closely linked. We will also seek to create formal or informal partnerships with other institutions and bodies involved with the promotion of architecture, such as the Royal Academy.
Fundamental to the policy is the creation of an architecture gallery at the V&A and Mr Harris will be pleased to hear that central to our thinking will be the experience accrued over 30 years of the size, type and range of exhibitions mounted in the RIBA Heinz Gallery. There will also be longer-term displays of contemporary and historical materials and electronic media.
Such a gallery would of course have a wider audience than the RIBA and V&A study rooms. It is perhaps disingenuous of Mr Harris to state that “in 30 years at the RIBA, not once did an architect knock on the door of the Drawings Collection asking to browse”. The architectural collections of the V&A and RIBA form the collective memory of the profession of architecture in this country and are a deep well from which architects, writers and historians can and do draw. Just because some architects do not place a premium on original materials, the value of documents that are “historical” (i.e. dating from yesterday and earlier) is still immense for the profession, which sees and is often influenced by the reproduction of these materials in books, journals and other media.
Michael Snodin, Charles Hind
Head of Designs Collection, V&A, Curator of Drawings, RIBA
Chairman, Architectural Policy Advisory Group Vice-Chairman
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'V&A and RIBA: a reply'