Founded in 1931, the Building Centre started life as a building materials bureau at the Architectural Association with the aim of demonstrating to students and architects the best contemporary products and materials available.
One of its key innovations was connecting the world of manufacturing with the study and practice of architecture. In a unique offering, the Centre urged visitors to ‘discover here how to create useful and beautiful structures’ with product displayed in sections ranging from floor coverings to glass.
Architectural Association School Secretary Frank Yerbury became the first Managing Director, a position he held for 30 years, and he was both a passionate advocate for new architecture as well as an accomplished photographer who travelled extensively capturing the best of contemporary practice. His photographs of Le Corbusier’s early work were amongst the first published in Britain. The Centre was ambitious in its intention that ‘the architect and others interested in building’ be kept informed of ‘modern developments in building materials’.
The Building Centre opened its doors to the public on Wednesday 7 September 1932 with ideas, innovation and education central to its ambitions.
The centre came into being ‘arising out of a great need – one of the most pressing of the building industry – for a ready and accessible means whereby the architect and others interested in building may keep themselves abreast of modern developments and, conversely, the manufacturers may feel certain that their products and their developments are constantly receiving the attention of the architectural professions, the building industry and the public.’
Maurice Webb, Chairman of the Board, 1931
Under the direction of Frank Yerbury the Building Centre received the support of an impressive array of architects including Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and Sir Edwin Lutyens who sat on the centre’s first advisory board. The first Building Centre poster of 1932 encouraged a visit to ‘London’s most fascinating display’ and a vast number of visitors followed.