Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Admiralty Arch for sale: building a biography

by Fiona Ferbrache

My Great Aunt was a ‘Jenny’ – a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) – and, as a First Officer, she worked in Admiralty Arch, the Grade I listed building that straddles the road between the Mall and Trafalgar Square.

Admiralty Arch was completed around 1911 and initially provided offices and residences to the Royal Navy.  Over the years, it has provided hostel accommodation for homeless people and, most recently, offices for the Cabinet.  Today, Admiralty Arch is for sale at approximately 75 million pounds, and speculation suggests a transformation into a lavish hotel (Ruddick, 2011).

An iconic landmark of London, Admiralty Arch evokes a sense of place, but it is also provides an example of the “building biography”, a concept explored by McNeill and McNamara (2012) in relation to the life of a Sydney hotel.  A building’s biography draws attention to different persepctives throughout its history, and how these may have been constituted by human agents, materialities and political and economical conditions at the time.

Applying this concept to Admiralty Arch, one must consider the people who have worked there, as well as those who have been involved with its maintenance, as significant characters in the biography. In addition, this idea positions the building within urban frameworks and geopolitical and economic contexts. For example, the sale of Admiralty Arch can be seen as part of the Government’s strategy to improve efficiency of government property in a time of austerity (see report, 2011).  At the heart of their paper, McNeill and McNamara invite geographers to challenge preconceived visions of what a building actually is (how it differs through time); that is, to reconceptualise the ontology of the built world.


  Ruddick, G. (2011) London’s Admiralty Arch could become a hotel under Government plans. The Telegraph. 03 November, 2011.

  McNeill, D. & McNamara, K. (2012) The life and death of great hotels: a building biography of Sydney’s ‘The Australia’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 37,1. pp.149-163

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