Dome: Ralph Tubbs and the Festival of Britain

Dome: Ralph Tubbs and the Festival of Britain

Dates: 12 September – 20 October 2012

Venue: Chelsea Space, Chelsea College of Art and Design, 16 John Islip Street, London SW1P 4JU.

As part of the 2012 London Design Festival and Icon Design Trail Chelsea Space presents a unique opportunity to view material from the personal archive of Ralph Tubbs, architect of the iconic Dome of Discovery constructed for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The Exhibition will focus on previously unseen drawings by Tubbs, photographs, ephemera and personal mementos. The exhibition will also include general memorabilia from this landmark event in the cultural life of 20th Century Britain.

The 1951 Festival of Britain was organised by the British government to promote the UK and help the British people recover a sense of optimism and pride after the trauma of the Second World War and the austerity that followed.

The Festival (100 years after the Great Exhibition of 1851) highlighted Britain’s contribution to science, Technology, Industrial Design, Arts and Architecture; the exhibition inside The Dome of Discovery was divided into sections about The Land, The Earth, Polar, Sea, Sky, Outer Space, The Physical World, and The Living World.

The Festival was celebrated across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but its most memorable and innovative symbols were a vertical metal structure known as The Skylon, The Royal Festival Hall, and The Dome of Discovery – all on London’s Southbank beside the River Thames.

Sadly, the Festival and its architectural structures were seen as synonymous with Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government and the incoming Conservatives under Winston Churchill had the Skylon and the Dome of Discovery demolished and sold for scrap in 1952.

Ralph Tubbs OBE FRIBA (1912-1996) studied at the Architectural Association in London and then went on to work for the renowned architect Ernö Goldfinger. Tubbs’ buildings include the YMCA Indian Student Hostel in Fitzrovia, Baden-Powell House Kensington, and the Charing Cross Hospital, but his designs for The Dome of Discovery will remain his defining achievement and an iconic symbol of the optimism of a nation. His dome stood 93 feet tall and, with a diameter of 365 feet, was the largest dome in the world at the time.

Richard Rogers’ Millennium Dome (currently known as the O2 Arena), built in Greenwich as part of the British celebrations for the year 2000, takes the 1951 dome as a point of reference and has the same diameter in metres; it is, in part, a tribute to the architecture and vision of Ralph Tubbs.

The archive of Ralph Tubbs has been kindly loaned by his son, the architect Jonathan Tubbs, and additional Festival of Britain memorabilia is from the collection of designer and historian Nigel Bents.

An illustrated publication is available with texts by Jonathan Tubbs and Charles Knevitt.

Curatorial concept and design: Donald Smith.

chelseaspace.org