Skip to content
ICE Community blog

How much do you know about the ICE’s art collection?

08 July 2024

A new project uses the ICE’s art collection to improve the visitor experience at One Great George Street.

How much do you know about the ICE’s art collection?
One Great George Street is home to a large collection of historic engineering artwork. Image credit:

Visitors to One Great George Street (OGGS) will soon be able to discover more about the great history of the ICE and our impressive collection of artworks.

While the building is closed for its summer refurbishment, new interpretation panels and captions for our art pieces will be installed.

These will give more information about some of the individual civil engineers and engineering works depicted in the paintings and describe OGGS’s historic interiors.

From Joseph Bazalgette and Thomas Pierson Frank to George and Robert Stephenson, this will be an opportunity to remember some of the most notable British civil engineers and celebrate others whose successes may have been overlooked.

Uncovering hidden achievements

With over 170 works, the ICE holds one of the largest collections of engineers’ portraits in the world.

The vast majority depict our former presidents, many of which line the walls of the Presidents’ Staircase.

With little context beyond the sitters’ names, their time in office and the artists, it’s easy to walk past this sea of faces without much thought.

Introducing interpretation will change all that, drawing attention to key achievements as well as to some hidden messages and intriguing imagery.

Did you know, for example, which civil engineer invented the football goal net?

Who saved London’s flood defences during the Blitz?

Or whose portrait depicts Baghdad’s first sewage treatment system?

Walking up the staircase where the portraits of the past presidents are... inspires me to think that I'm part of something amazing; an institution that started in a coffee shop in 1818, and now I'm a part of that.

ICE member, Yorkshire

Reinforcing the ICE and OGGS brand

Using a consistent approach to present our history alongside a recognisable visual language will help to reinforce our brand.

Existing interpretation will be tidied up and consolidated and the names of leading engineers which appear throughout the building will be explained.

If we name a room after someone, we should say something about them.

ICE focus group participant

People visit OGGS to take part in corporate functions, conferences, filming or wedding receptions or to simply find a quiet space in Kendal’s Café Bar.

This information will help to deepen their engagement with civil engineering and the history of our building, encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat visits.

Improving the visitor experience

This work is part of a three-year plan to improve the visitor experience at OGGS.

The project was started by the ICE Artwork Review Sub-Committee in response to feedback from our members and other people who use the building.

The committee partnered with cultural heritage consultants Maria Blyzinsky and Victoria Kingston of The Exhibitions Team to come up with a strategy to make better use of the art collection and historic interiors. It also aims to address the lack of representation and diversity on display.

Listening to our members

The approach has been shaped by consulting ICE members and other visitors to OGGS, using questionnaires and focus groups.

Our findings revealed a deep interest in the artwork and history of the ICE and support for better interpretation throughout the building.

There’s also a strong feeling that the displays should do more to convey the forward-looking nature of the ICE and the diversity and achievements of our membership across the UK and internationally.

The project will continue to be guided by our members, ensuring that OGGS remains a destination that we can all feel proud of.

In fact, the overarching goal of the project might best be summarised by one particularly inspiring piece of feedback from the consultation exercise:

I want new members, graduates and apprentices to feel welcome, to feel like their contribution to ICE is important and even that, one day, their portrait could be on the wall.

ICE graduate member, London

A three-year initiative

The project has several strands which will be phased over two to three years, making sensible use of existing resources and taking advantage of quiet times in the building.

Although the first phase will focus on some of the key figures in civil engineering from the past 200 years, our aim is to provide context for all the paintings on display eventually.

Other ideas in the pipeline include:

  • an annual photography competition to showcase our members’ projects from across the world;
  • commissioning a short film about the ICE and the significance of civil engineering today;
  • ensuring future presidents’ portraits always depict something which conveys the sitter’s achievements; and
  • researching potential new artworks to reflect the diversity of ICE members and their global impact.

We should be proud of our collective achievements and the ICE should commission artists to record them for the members and for the nation.

ICE member, south-west UK

Art and engineering have much in common, both being creative practices that require mental and manual dexterity, problem-solving and visualisation skills.

By elevating the ICE art collection from background decoration to an integral part of the organisation, we demonstrate a commitment to progressive thinking, pushing boundaries and inspirational leadership.

All qualities prized by ICE and our members.

Which portrait on the Presidents’ Staircase would you like to know more about?

Please send an email to our consultant Victoria Kingston, [email protected] by Friday 19 July.

The ICE Artwork Review Sub-Committee will review the results and choose a winner for the captions being installed on the Presidents' Staircase this summer.

  • ICE Artwork Review Sub-Committee , Institution of Civil Engineers