This article explores the relationship between architecture and imperial idealism in late Victorian Britain. It traces the development of the Imperial Institute in the South Kensington section of London from conception to completion, considering the proposals that surrounded the scheme in relation to the sociopolitical context within which it emerged. Sources such as letters, guidebooks, newspapers, journal articles, official publications, and government documents are drawn upon; from them an interpretation of the building is offered that moves beyond issues concerning style and patronage to broader cultural implications. The institute evolved as a consequence of the changing circumstances then affecting British foreign and imperial affairs, and commonly held beliefs relating to empire were reflected in the building's architecture. Analysis of the leading ideas that shaped the scheme formally and spatially reveals that the edifice was intended to stand literally as an emblem of the apparent strength and unity of the British empire. The importance of the institute as an architectural idea, therefore, lies not only in its attempt to give symbolic form to a concept of empire that was at the heart of late Victorian concerns, but also in the way it sought to mark and distinguish London as the center and capital of that empire.

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