Lord (Peter) Palumbo

Property Developer, Patron of the Arts
Former Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain
Chairman of The Pritzker Prize for Architecture

Lord (Peter) Palumbo was born on 20 July 1935 in London, the only child of Rudolph Palumbo, a successful property developer of Italian descent, in the City of London and Elsie Annie Gregory, a classical musician from Lancashire, England.


Palumbo was educated at Scaitcliffe School in Surrey then Eton College where he was a member The Eton Society – the College's Prefects – as well as Captain of House. In 1956 Palumbo went up to Worcester College, Oxford to read Law.

Soccer, Racquets and Polo

At Eton, Palumbo was Captain of Games, as well as Captain of the school Racquets and Soccer teams.

At the University of Oxford, he gained Blues at Racquets and Polo, and represented the University and the Pegasus Football Club at Soccer. For a brief spell he trained as an amateur with the Arsenal Football Club. As well as captaining and winning the Varsity match against Cambridge at Racquets in 1958, Palumbo was also on the winning side at Polo in the Intervarsity match in the same year.

In 1977, Palumbo would go on to win The Queens Cup in Polo at Windsor Great Park, and The Gold Cup at Cowdray Park.

City of London

After gaining a degree in Law, Palumbo began work for the next 30 years in the family business together with his father, Rudolph, who was a successful property developer. Their company developed sites across London, including 100 Pall Mall in St James's and St Swithin's House, Walbrook.

In July 1962, Palumbo journeyed to Chicago to meet his architectural hero, Mies van der Rohe, the former Director of the Bauhaus at Dessau, Germany; and to offer him a commission to design the comprehensive redevelopment of a prominent site adjacent to Bank junction and the Mansion House in the City of London. The design comprised a 19-storey office building to be occupied by Lloyds Bank Overseas, together with a new London square at its base, to be known as Mansion House Square, landscaped by Lanning Roper.

The controversial development was finally rejected in the 1980s after a ten week public enquiry; and an alternative scheme by Sir James Stirling was designed for the same site, but known as Number One, Poultry. This project also was also subject to another public enquiry followed by a road closure enquiry.

This scheme received the support of the then Governor of the Bank of England, Lord Leigh-Pemberton, amongst many others, and whose successor as Governor, Lord (Eddie) George, led the topping-out ceremony. The development was finally completed in 1998 after forty years of endeavour; and was one of the last designs by Sir James Stirling.

Church of St. Stephen, Walbrook

Palumbo led the fundraising Appeal for the restoration of Sir Christopher Wren's Church of St. Stephen in the Ward of Walbrook, London, which was badly damaged during The Blitz in 1941.

In 1972 he commissioned the sculptor Henry Moore to carve an altar made from a single slab of travertine marble stone with a weight of eight tons.

The Church's rector, Dr Chad Varah, was the founder of The Samaritans and also the family chaplain. Palumbo worked as a Samaritan for five years and was Churchwarden from 1953-2003.

In 1987 Palumbo installed a sundial in the church garden, also by Henry Moore, dedicated to the memory of his former wife, Denia Wigram who died in 1986. It is inscribed with the words: "I count only the sunny hours."

The Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois

In 1972, Palumbo purchased the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Illinois, USA. This was a stroke of serendipity since it was a photograph of the Farnsworth House that had first captured his imagination as a pupil at school and sparked his lifelong interest in Architecture.

The grounds of the Farnsworth House were landscaped by Lanning Roper, and were furnished with the works of noted sculptors such as Sir Anthony Caro, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, Henry Moore, Claes Oldbenburg, Andy Goldsworthy and Ellsworth Kelly, to name but a few.

The Farnsworth House was opened to the public in 1996 and sold to The American National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2003.

Kentuck Knob, Pennsylvania

During a visit in 1984 to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, USA, Palumbo was told that the other Lloyd Wright house in the State, Kentuck Knob, was for sale.

The property was purchased in 1985 and opened to the public in 1997. Palumbo added to the grounds of Kentuck Knob works by the sculptors Sir Anthony Caro, Richard Serra, Michael Warren, David Nash, George Rickey, Claes Oldenburg, Ray Smith and Andy Goldsworthy.

Patron and Collector of the Arts

Palumbo has been an avid collector since boyhood, first with matchboxes and stamps, before widening his naturally eclectic interests, varying from veteran and vintage cars, to principally French and Portuguese wines, to antiques and contemporary art.

Palumbo was a patron of The Tate Gallery and was instrumental in bringing Merce Cunningham and John Cage to the Barbican Centre, London, and later the musicians from Preservation Hall, New Orleans.

Palumbo had previously commissioned the architects Mies van der Rohe, Quinlan Terry, Richard Rogers, Shigeru Ban and Zaha Hadid. An early supporter of the works of Sean Scully and Sir Peter Blake, the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy received his first commission from Palumbo.

Family Life

In 1956 Palumbo married Denia Wigram with whom he had three children. The marriage ended in divorce in 1977.

In 1986, Palumbo married Hayat Morowa, the daughter of the Lebanese newspaper proprietor Kamel Morowa, with whom he also has three children, and two stepchildren from his wife's previous marriage.

Writing and Public Speaking

Lord Palumbo has written for various publications on a variety of subjects mainly related to the Arts and Architecture in the United Kingdom and abroad and has also lectured and spoken at numerous venues, amongst many others:

United Kingdom

The Oxford Union (University of Oxford), The University of Cambridge, The University of Warwick, Eton College, Architectural Association, The Tate Gallery, The Royal Academy, The Royal Institute of British Architects, The Royal Fine Art Commission, The Women's Institute, The City Corporation, The Athenaeum Club, The Middlesex Cricket Club (MCC), The Worshipful Company of Mercers, The Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects, The Royal Banqueting Hall and St Paul's Cathedral, The Church of St. Stephen Walbrook, London.


Cornell University, New York, The Kennedy Library, Boston, The Library of Congress, Washington DC, Millennium Park, Chicago, The Meridian Annual Conference, The Ronald Reagan Centre, Washington DC, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas, The Great Hall of The People, Beijing, The Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul, The Factory House, Porto, Portugal, The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Academy Art Museum, Maryland. New World Centre Miami, Florida

Palumbo has appeared on numerous radio and television programmes. He addressed the Cultural Committee of the Hungarian Parliament during his tenure as Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain.


1977-Present: Trustee of the Visiting Committee of the Mies van der Rohe archive at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA; 1978-85: Trustee of The Tate Gallery in London, England; 1981-87: Trustee of The Whitechapel Gallery, London, England; 1984-1999: Trustee then Honorary Treasurer of The Writers' and Scholars' Educational Trust; 1992: Trustee of The Architecture Foundation; 1994-2004: Trustee of The Natural History Museum, London; 1994-2013: Trustee of The Royal Fine Art Commission Trust; 1995-2005: Trustee of The Design Museum, London, England; 2010-Present: Trustee of The West-Eastern Divan; 2015-Present: The Zaha Hadid Foundation; 2015-Present: Trustee of Stepchange Foundation UK.


1976-1994: Governor of The London School of Economics (LSE)

2002-2010: Governor of Whitgift School, England


1985-86: Chairman of The Tate Gallery Foundation, London; 1986-1996: Chairman of the Painshill Park Appeal, Surrey; 1989-1994: Appointed Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain by Mrs Thatcher; 1994-2014: Chairman of The Serpentine Gallery, London, England; 2004-Present: Chairman of The Pritzker Prize for Architecture; 2010-2012: Chairman of The Chad Varah Appeal; 2013-Present: Chairman of The Royal Fine Art Commission Trust; 2014-Present: Positive View Foundation; 2014-Present: Chairman Emeritus of The Serpentine Gallery, London


1992-2007: Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth


1984-1999: Board Member of The Andy Warhol Foundation, New York, USA; 1995-1999: Board Member of The Royal Albert Hall, London, England; 1995-2000: Board Member of The Royal Shakespeare Company; 2008-2012: Member of the Advisory Board for MerchantBridge & Co. Ltd. 2010-Present: Advisor Emeritus to Whitgift School, England; 2012-Present: Member of the Advisory Board to Lebanese International Finance Executives (LIFE); 2013-Present:International Advisory Committee, Chicago Architecture Biennial; 2014-Present: Advisor to The Line Sculptor Walk, London; 2014-Present: Member of the Advisory Board of Cornell University, New York, for Architecture, Arts and Planning


1996-Present: President of The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, London


1991: Appointed a Life Peer by Mrs Thatcher for services to the Arts as Baron Palumbo of Walbrook, after the Ward in the City of London in which Palumbo has spent much of his working life; 1993: Awarded Hon. DLitt by the University of Portsmouth; 1993: Awarded The National Order of The Southern Cross by the Republic of Brazil; 1994: Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Building; 1994: Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Structural Engineers; 2002: The Lifetime Achievement Arts Award from Cranbrook Academy of Arts, Detroit, USA; 2009: Presented with a diploma by the legislature of the City of Buenos Aires in The Argentine Republic as a Guest of Honour to the City


1986: Honorary Fellow of The Royal Institute of Architects; 1987-2004: Palumbo purchased and restored The Maisons Jaoul in Neuilly, Paris, by the Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier; 1990: Palumbo funded the restoration of the Penguin Pool at the London Zoo by Berthold Lubetkin; 1993: Presented The Turner Prize to the sculptor Rachel Whiteread at The Tate, London