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Records of the School of Architecture

RA Collection: Archive

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Showing item 12 of 14 in this group

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Records of the School of Architecture





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1 folder

Historical Background

Architecture in the Schools.

Tuition 1769-1869.

Of the seventy-seven students that entered the schools in 1769 only three were architects. The history of architects in the schools has always been that of minority.

The curriculum for architecture students was very different to that of painters and sculptors. They were exempt from drawing classes in the Plaster and Life Schools on the understanding that young architects would be attached to established architectural practices as pupils. This would leave them no time for daylight classes, and so the Academy library was opened three evenings a week. The Academy library was well stocked, early on, with books on architecture. Sir William Chambers, architect and first Treasurer of the Academy, had seen to this.

Attendance at the annual course of six architecture lectures was compulsory. From 1806 to 1837 the Academy had a brilliant Professor of Architecture, in the person of Sir John Soane. More ordinarily the lectures were of variable quality and sometimes not delivered at all. Even so, the lectures formed the one taught element of the course at the Royal Academy.

Like other students the architects could submit work for a premium. One gold medal was awarded every two years for the best design in architecture in the form of an elevation and section. Silver medals were awarded for the best drawings of notable buildings in London.

An 1817 petition of complaint from the architecture students makes it clear that some thought the quality of training in the schools less than satisfactory. As the nineteenth century progressed a more general grumbling as to the state of the Schools hid any problems particular to the architecture curriculum.


The Academy was under attack from various directions by the middle of the nineteenth century. It tried to respond but got nowhere. In 1856 the General Assembly thought it necessary to investigate "some means of affording to the Students in that department, direct and sufficient instruction in the rudiments of architecture". The lack of a taught element was clearly making itself felt. Charles Barry and C. R. Cockerell submitted a detailed plan for architectural study that linked the Schools closely with other institutions teaching architecture, search as the Royal Institute of Architects and King's College, London. The plan was too ambitious however and nothing happened.

The presence of other teaching institutions for architecture forced the Academy to look seriously at what it was trying to achieve in the Schools and reposition itself. The solution was similar to that adopted in response to the Government Art Schools in South Kensington. The Schools were to be pitched at a post-graduate level, feeding off the students produced by the more instructional methods of the other colleges. In this way the Academy was able to disguise the lack of any systematic tuition.

Even so, this state of play couldn't last forever and the schools were drastically altered in January 1870. A Teacher of Architecture, Richard Phené Spiers, was "engaged to give instruction to the Architectural Students in the evening between the hours of six and eight o'clock". For the first time examinations were to be held at the Royal Academy, if successful the student would receive a "Diploma".

Visitors were introduced in 1877. The Visitor system had always operated in the drawing and modelling schools. RA Members would be elected as Visitor for a year, each would then dispense tuition in the schools for one month of the schools calendar. The success of this scheme was widely acknowledged to be patchy at best.


Things were still not running smoothly, despite the changes. In 1893 a memorial was submitted to Council, signed by architect members (led by Norman Shaw), past students and current students, pleading for the improvement "in the artistic education of young architects & suggesting that the architectural school should be put on the same footing as the Painting and Sculpture Schools, & be opened during the day time".

Nothing more appears of this scheme.

Death throes.

In 1947 the Architecture School was re-launched as a one year post-graduate school, with A. E. Richardson as Professor of Architecture and Director of the School, and Marshall Sisson as the Master. The Director would select students and numbers would be very limited. The students would then fight it out for a "grand prize" at the completion of their studies.

The main purpose of the school was to study civic architecture and the preparation of designs for buildings for national importance. The scheme was very much associated with Richardson; it was his baby.

By 1956 the scheme had run out of steam. Although the Keeper praised the work done in the schools in his report each year it was clear that the school was unsustainable. In his report for 1956 Henry Rushbury announced that it had trouble attracting students, it was then mothballed.

It re-opened as an evening school in 1961 with a panel of distinguished Visitors, but again failed to attract enough students of post-graduate status, it closed in 1964.