A House for the Learned Societies

"A House for the Learned Societies" (Design)

W. R. Lethaby (1857-1931)


Competition entry; winner of the RIBA Soane Medallion of 1878-79

Courtesy of the Museum and Study Collection at Central Saint Martins.

The challenge here was to design a building on the Embankment near Somerset House to accommodate four learned societies with all the requisite offices and facilities. Lethaby produced a gracious double-courtyard complex with Renaissance-style detailing, which the Building News described at the time (with some inevitable cavils) as "a very clever work exhibiting considerable power and artistic feeling," particularly admiring the staircases, "which form large circular bayed ends towards the courts," and the first floor rooms "pleasingly broken by bays, which externally produce a very piquant grouping, especially towards the river frontage" (qtd. in Rubens 32). [Commentary continues below.]