March 9, 2017 - Royal Institute of British Architects - Mies van der Rohe + James Stirling: Circling the Square
e-flux Architecture
March 9, 2017
March 9, 2017

Royal Institute of British Architects

(1) Courtyard perspective and facade design studies of Number One Poultry. Courtesy of Laurence Bain. (2) Photomontage and photograph of 1:96 site model of Mansion House Square © John Donat / RIBA Collections.

Mies van der Rohe + James Stirling: Circling the Square
March 8–June 25, 2017

Royal Institute of British Architects
66 Portland Place
London W1B 1AD
United Kingdom

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The exhibition Mies van der Rohe + James Stirling: Circling the Square is the first of its kind to explore Mies van der Rohe’s unrealised Mansion House Square project alongside its built successor, James Stirling Michael Wilford & Associates' postmodern Number One Poultry. It presents a renewed examination of two iconic architectural schemes proposed for the same site in the City of London, offering a unique opportunity to draw comparisons between the design methods of two of the most highly recognised architects of the 20th century, and to trace the continuity in purpose and approach that unites two seemingly dissimilar architectural creations.

When architectural patron and developer Peter, later Lord, Palumbo commissioned Mies van der Rohe in 1962 to build a masterpiece of the modern movement, replacing a block of listed high-Victorian offices, the site became the focus of one of the most famous architectural planning controversies. With the surfacing of never-before-seen design and archival material, this exhibition looks beyond the controversy, and behind the scenes, to examine the two projects through the original vision of the architects themselves. The selected material on display unveils how Stirling designed Number One Poultry with an acute awareness both of the principles of Mies’s scheme and the reasons for its rejection. It proposes a more nuanced reading of the buildings rather than reducing them to stylistic opponents—high-modernism versus postmodernism.

Mies van der Rohe designed his proposal for Mansion House Square at the very end of his career, between 1962 and his death in 1969. The classic Miesian glass tower of 19 storeys and accompanying public square and underground shopping centre would have been Mies’ first and only project in the UK. After a protracted planning process, the scheme was finally rejected in 1985. Lord Palumbo then approached James Stirling, fresh from his success at Stuttgart with the Neue Staatsgalerie in 1984, to conceive an alternative vision for the site. James Stirling, Michael Wilford & Associates’ Number One Poultry was completed in 1998, six years after Stirling’s untimely death. It is often cited as a masterpiece of the post-international style and has recently been awarded Grade II* listed status.

RIBA curators have drawn together material from the RIBA Collections with a number of loans from public institutions and previously unexplored private archives from some of the key individuals involved. Highlights include a detailed site model of the Mies scheme—one of the most impressive architectural models ever made, on display for the first time in over 30 years; original sketches by James Stirling; photomontages by architectural photographer John Donat, whose archive is held in the RIBA Collections; and letters from seminal architectural figures such as Philip Johnson and Berthold Lubetkin.

The exhibition is co-curated by Marie Bak Mortensen, Head of Exhibitions, and Vicky Wilson, Assistant Curator, RIBA.
 

Related program

The Inquiry
March 14, 7–8:30pm
with Vicky Wilson, RIBA; Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian; James Taylor-Foster, Arch Daily and more

Mies + Stirling: Contemporary Reflections
March 21, 7–8:30pm
with Lord Peter Palumbo, Dirk Lohan, Laurence Bain, Adrian Gale, Shumi Bose and more

Less is More. Less is a Bore.
March 28, 6–10pm
a fun and free RIBA Late with talks, events, screenings, workshops and drinks

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