Circling the Square

Tuesday, 14th March 2017

Mies-designed tower block for Mansion House Square scheme © John Donat RIBA Collections

Mies van der Rohe’s unrealised Mansion House Square

A MAJOR new exhibition opened this week at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) offering a renewed examination of two iconic architectural schemes proposed for the same site in the City of London.

Mies van der Rohe & James Stirling: Circling the Square offers 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.

Commissioned by architectural patron and developer Lord Peter Palumbo, Mies van der Rohe’s unrealised Mansion House Square project (illustrated below) is explored alongside its built successor, James Stirling Michael Wilford & Associates’ newly listed Number One Poultry.

The design history of the two schemes spans three decades of the mid-20th century. Intended to replace an eclectic block of listed buildings, both schemes became subjects of passionate debate, and high-profile inquiries. This debate distracted attention from the architectural ideas and ambitions of both architects and patron.

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.

James Stirling Michael Wilford & Associates’ Number One Poultry

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 1997, two 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; while it still divides opinion, the building was designed with an acute consciousness of both its historic surroundings and Mies’ earlier design.

Public events

• The Inquiry: Mansion House Square & Number One Poultry
Tuesday March 14, 7-8.30pm
Hear curators, critics and architects debate the appropriateness of the two schemes in this participatory event where the audience will act as jury and make the final verdict. Speakers include: Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian; James Taylor-Foster, Arch Daily; Pooja Agrawal, GLA; Emily Gee, Historic England; Jack Self, Real Review and Vicky Wilson, RIBA.

Mies van der Rohe (1984)
Film screening Monday March 20, 7-8.30pm
A rare opportunity to see a film made by Georgia van der Rohe about her father, Mies van der Rohe. The screening will be introduced with a short talk by the project architect of Mansion House Square, Dirk Lohan, Mies van der Rohe’s grandson.

Mies + Stirling: Contemporary Reflections
Tuesday March 21, 7-8.30pm
The key figures involved in two of London’s most significant architectural schemes of the 20th century recount the history Mansion House Square and Number One Poultry in this panel discussion with Lord Peter Palumbo, Laurence Bain, Adrian Gale, MJ Long and Dirk Lohan. Chaired by Shumi Bose.

To book public events visit

• Learning activities include a free family fun event and workshops for children and young people in the Easter holidays, led by teaching artists and RIBA architects. To book any learning event visit

• Mies van der Rohe & James Stirling: Circling the Square runs until June 25 in The Architecture Gallery at RIBA, 66 Portland Place, W1B 1AD. Open 10am-5pm Monday to Sunday and 8pm Tuesdays. Entrance free.

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