How do you exhibit a building?

For fans of architecture, London really does have it all. Our capital city is bursting with so many architectural treasures, from those that have survived a millennium, to those at the vanguard of progress, with a bit of everything in between. At the same time, visitors to London’s superb museums and galleries are frequently treated to excellent exhibitions about all things architectural; recent highlights include those at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The RCP’s forthcoming exhibition, The anatomy of a building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians, is exceptional because it combines one of London’s top architectural delights with the opportunity to learn about the processes behind its creation. Visitors will have a rare opportunity to see an architectural exhibition about a wonderful building within the building itself. In other words, our very own building will be the star of the show.

Central staircase
RCP central staircase from the second floor, photography by Mike Fear

Such an exciting opportunity was naturally embarked upon with relish by the RCP’s museum team. In one way, deciding how to exhibit a building as the showpiece for an exhibition is simple, because all you have to do is get visitors in through the front door, and the features that make our building so extraordinary (the magnificent ceremonial staircase, for example) are already there in place. However, Sir Denys himself presented what has transpired to be a crucial curatorial challenge, when he discussed the RCP building in 1965:

'You can go and see it, and the building, if it has anything to say, will have to speak for itself.'

Lasdun believed in the intrinsic eloquence of architecture, and disliked distracting clutter. The RCP building is considered Lasdun’s finest work, and indeed one of London’s best examples of Modernist architecture; our challenge is to strike the right balance between creating beautiful and informative displays that increase our appreciation and understanding of the building, but not detract from it.

Come along to and see our building and exhibition later this year, and you can decide if we get it right!

The exhibition The anatomy of a building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians ran from 8 September 2014 – 13 February 2015.

Sarah Backhouse, exhibition coordinator

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Sarah Backhouse ,
Exhibitions officer

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Library, Archive and Museum