Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Nicholas Grimshaw, Michael and Patty Hopkins and Terry Farrell have designed some of the most iconic buildings around the world, from the Reichstag dome in Berlin to the Pompidou Centre in Paris and The Peak in Hong Kong—and they are now the subject of a new exhibition “The Brits Who Built the Modern World.”
The inaugural exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) brand new gallery in central London, will tell the story of how a single generation of the above exceptional architects—born within five years of each other in the 1930s—gave 21st Century British architecture an unrivalled reputation around the world.
The Reichstag dome by Norman Foster
What unites these six architects is that they left European modernism behind and became protagonists of the next movement in architecture, known as “high-tech” or “industrial style.” Their inspiration came from cars, Meccano and engineers. They replaced typically modernist concrete with steel skeletons and lightweight, “clip on,” prefabricated materials. It was a style that each of them developed individually, but which they all successfully exported, turning it and them into a global commodity.
Through drawings, photographs, models and film—many from the RIBA’s world-renowned collections—the exhibition charts the rise of these prolific architects, and of the changing world that they were designing for. It gives context to their work, including their influences, contemporaries and the technological discoveries that made ever more dazzling structures possible.
The Pompidou Centre c. 1977 by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers
The exhibition also explores the changing identity of cities internationally. Landmark buildings were increasingly commissioned to “brand” or regenerate a city and few architects were more popular for the role than the six featured in the exhibition.
The exhibition is part of a season of exhibitions and events inspired by the BBC TV series “The Brits Who Built the Modern World,” which will be broadcast in a three-part series this spring.
Rendering for Delhi station by Terry Farrell
A series of talks and events at RIBA including a live Q&A with all five architects and a “High Tech” Last Tuesday evening will be a part of the programming, as well as two other accompanying exhibitions:
New British Voices Today and Tomorrow features new and soon-to-be completed international projects by 17 British based practices. It looks at what UK architecture looks like around the world today and tomorrow with guest contributions from a range of experts and commentators and explores what lies behind the strength of the UK design industries today. The exhibition is open from February 13 through May 27.
Empire Builders: British Architects Abroad 1750 – 1950 draws largely on the extensive collections of the RIBA’s Library and archives and showcases the variety of international buildings by British architects over two centuries. From a 19th Century cast iron market in Chile to an art deco church in Delhi, exquisite drawings, watercolors, photographs and models, show where, why and how British architects built abroad, both inside and outside the Empire. This exhibition is open until June 15 at the V&A + RIBA Architecture Gallery at the V&A Museum.
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