Less than six months after the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) launched a closely-watched competition for a “comprehensive refurbishment” of its longtime headquarters at 66 Portland Place in central London, a firm has been selected to take on the roughly $27 million project: Benedetti Architects.
Led by Canada-born and -educated Renato Benedetti, the six-year-old firm was one of seven teams—comprised of 11 RIBA-chartered firms in total—shortlisted for the major revamp, joined by David Kohn Architects, Donald Insall Associates, Freehaus, and IDK; Feix&Merlin with Haptic Architects and Heritage Architecture; Hall McKnight, Hugh Broughton Architects, and Roz Barr Architects. The competition shortlist was first revealed by RIBA in early March.
“We were very impressed with the quality and consideration evidenced in every shortlisted proposal, but ultimately Benedetti Architects’ vision for our project secured their win,” said RIBA President Simon Allford. “They also enthusiastically embraced our idea to work collaboratively with other practices in later stages.”
With the announcement that Benedetti will lead the transformation of the Grade II-listed 66 Portland Place into a “dynamic, accessible, and sustainable building,” the firm will now embark on a full feasibility study alongside RIBA and bring on, as mentioned by Allford, a handful of smaller firms to join the larger the project team. Per a RIBA press announcement, “design and funding options will be considered by the RIBA Board for decision in due course,” and construction is slated to kick off in early 2024.
Said Renato Benedetti:
“It’s a tremendous honour to be chosen for this once-in-a-lifetime project. We adore 66 Portland Place and agree it needs comprehensive improvements to be fit for purpose to secure its sustainable future culturally and environmentally, as an exemplar for architects, and for the communication of architecture’s significance to the broadest possible audience.
As a wide-eyed Canadian student who first visited in 1983, the RIBA felt like the architectural epicentre of the world to me. It would be great to rekindle that sense of excitement and relevance for future generations of architects and lovers of architecture.”
Prior to establishing his eponymous London-based practice in 2016, Benedetti was a co-founder of McDowell+Benedetti (founded in 1996) and, before that, worked as an associate at David Chipperfield Architects for seven years. The award-winning Benedetti Architects has led several high-profile restoration projects across the British capital and beyond including at BAFTA Headquarters at 195 Piccadilly, Oliver’s Wharf Penthouse, and Portsmouth Guildhall. The firm was also shortlisted alongside Adjaye Associates and PUP Architects for the Barbican Renewal project (as announced in late April, Allies and Morrison and Asif Khan Studio were ultimately selected) and the Camden Highline.
Per the full competition brief, the overhaul of 66 Portland Place, which has been subject to numerous upgrades and enhancements over its long history, calls for the creation of “modern and flexible workspaces” to accommodate RIBA staff along with four new gallery spaces located within the building: a Public Gallery, Member’s Gallery, Collections Gallery, and Public Affairs Gallery. Additionally, RIBA has identified key requirements of the planned overhaul:
- “Redefine space within the building for various functions.
- Ensure full accessibility throughout the building.
- Align with RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge to achieve sustainable outcomes and meet Net Zero whilst upgrading the building infrastructure.
- Sensitive restoration and conservation of the Grade II building.”
Located in the West End’s Marylebone district, the art deco 66 Portland Place was designed by George Grey Wornum, who won a 1929 competition seeking designs for a new headquarters for the then-95-year-old RIBA, which had previously been located at 8 Conduit Street since 1859.
Allford, who served on an eight-person competition judging panel alongside, among others, RIBA Architect Advisor Sarah Williams, RIBA Board Member and Honorary Treasurer Simone De Gale, and RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance, added:
“This project will be a key physical manifestation of our House of Architecture programme—enabling us to encourage collaboration and inspire architects and architecture. Crucially we will be delivering many activities globally and virtually too, with our own HQ building providing a strong foundation and destination.
The Lead Architect is also tasked with the practical challenge of bringing a listed building up to scratch, from an accessibility and sustainability perspective. This is urgent and essential work to make 66 Portland Place fit for the future.”
AN will report back once further design plans for the revamp of 66 Portland Place are revealed.