Architectural Humanities is one of five new research groups established by the School of Architecture and Cities in 2021. It focuses on the historical and cultural processes and practices of architecture. Founded on humanities-based methods and including interdisciplinary arts and social science approaches to research, our members address contemporary critical questions about architecture and its contexts. These include; archival and documentary analysis, oral histories, film and visual analysis, drawing, participatory research, installations and exhibitions.
Our members’ investigations and projects span the history of nineteenth and twentieth century architecture, modernism and landscape, the nature of spatial memory, the experience of vertigo, forms of architectural practice, women in architecture, religious architecture, social relations in the production of the built environment and the British New Left. We also include a group of researchers dedicated to examining architectural pedagogy, diversity and inclusion, and the intersectional relationship between students, educators and the educational institution. Many of these themes and approaches overlap but, in all cases, we are committed to experimental, speculative, and tentative ways of exploring architecture through artefacts, sounds and film alongside conventional academic methods.
A number of broad themes cut across our research in architectural humanities: Architectural Pedagogies; Counter-narratives in architectural history; Heritage and Belonging; Modernism and Landscape; Religious Architecture. We welcome PhD researchers and scholars in these areas.
For more about the Architectural Humanities Research Group go here.
Littlefield D (2023). “The agency of small things: indicators of ownership on the streets of Liverpool and Belfast”, chapter within, Everyday Streets: Inclusive approaches to understanding and designing streets.
Edited by Agustina Martire, Birgit Hausleitner, and Jane Clossick. UCL Press.
Streets are, on the face of it, physical spaces comprising the raw material of urban design and architecture. This physical realm, however, represents only a small part of the “street”; there is a deeper reality of social constructions guiding and encoding behaviours. Drawing on Actor-Network Theory and New Materialism I suggest these social constructions have the force of a “thing” – just as much force as a physical thing such as a wall.
Kate Jordan (2023) Between the Sacred and Secular: Faith, Space, and Place in the Twenty-First Century, Architecture and Culture, DOI: 10.1080/20507828.2023.2211823
In his 1954 poem, “Church Going,” Phillip Larkin anticipated the end of religion and the ruination of Britain’s churches. “What remains,” Larkin asked “when disbelief has gone? Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky.” In one respect, Larkin was right: the decline of traditional worship in the West did produce scores of redundant churches. But he was also wrong: the tendency to view abandoned churches as proof that ultimately “belief must die,” misses the myriad ways in which faith has, in fact, simply reconfigured and produced new spaces. Such weaknesses in the Western-centric disenchantment model have been recognized in the social sciences, where scholars are increasingly looking toward the built environment to understand new alignments in religion and society. However, the field remains somewhat overlooked by architectural theorists and historians. This article explores religious practices from an architectural perspective, offering an overview of faith, space and place in the twenty-first century.
Victoria Watson, Doctor Watson Architects, Incomplete Works Volume Four, Air Grid Publications, Doctor VA Watson 2022 isbn 9781838018023
This is a compilation of 24 items, each of which draws together an extract from a historically significant text about the nature of colour and an image of an Air Grid structure posed in space (a Cosmological Leap).
Victoria Watson, Restoration, Expansion and the Building Art: Contemporary Issues in the Life of Mies van der Rohe’s Museum of Modern Art (New National Gallery) in Berlin, JOURNAL OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS & PLACES | VOLUME 01 2022, 113-124
A consideration of the sensitive issues around the restoration and extension to Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie (NNG) on the Kulturforum in Berlin. The NNG is important for the City of Berlin because it is the only building realised by Mies in Europe after his emigration to the USA. But its importance goes further than that. It is an icon in the history of twentieth century art and architecture, embodying the ideals of cosmopolitan modernism. As a building of unexampled clarity and virtuosity, any architectural intervention will inevitably invite discussion of means and ends and the appropriateness of change to the fabric and setting of the original historic monument.
Launched in 2020, Translating Ferro/Transforming Knowledge is a 4 year research project that has two central aims – to translate and disseminate the work of Brazilian architect Sergio Ferro to an English speaking audience, and to initiate a new field of enquiry named ‘Production Studies’. For this research seminar, Nick Beech will introduce the project and his own contribution – an examination of Ferro’s reading of the nineteenth century designer William Morris. Throughout Ferro’s writing direct references and allusions are made to the ideas and practices of Morris, illuminating Ferro’s critique of the discipline and profession of architecture, and putting Ferro into critical dialogue with another field inspired by Morris – cultural studies.
Online AMPS conference, December 2022
In books like, ‘The Eyes of the Skin’, architectural theorist, Juhani Pallasmaa posits unmediated sensual experience as the site of authentic encounter with the built environment. Such ideas are today very prevalent in architectural discourse. This paper will argue that they are also highly problematic.
Article in the RIBA Journal by Sean Griffiths about the book ‘Half Earth Socialism’, which is informing the MARch projects of DS15 this year and was also one of the books we read in the ArCCAT reading group.
Davide Deriu has been invited to present his new book, On Balance: Architecture and Vertigo, at the Iuav University of Venice. A discussion with faculty members from different areas (architectural history, theory, representation and technology) will be held at the Ca’ Tron palace. Open to all.
Nick Beech will present ‘Policing the Crisis: Locating the urban in Marxist critiques of the 1970s’ in which the work of Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order (1978) is assessed for its specific contribution to Marxist urban debates of the 1970s – a period dominated by consideration of ‘crises’ and the reproduction of capital in and through urbanisation.
An extended presentation of Nick Beech’s contribution to the Translating Ferro/Transforming Knowledge for a new field of Production Studies, titled ‘Sérgio Ferro, William Morris, and a New Field’. The talk outlined the ways in which a selective tradition in architectural discourse has circumscribed the work of Morris, evacuating the radical potential of his work. This was followed by an analysis of alternative readings of Morris – the first provided by the English literary critic Raymond Williams and cultural studies; the second provided by the painter, architect and critical historian Sérgio Ferro and the new field of production studies.
Nick Beech presented ‘Sérgio Ferro, William Morris and a New Field’ at the two day International Symposium ‘Production Studies: Architecture, design and the construction site’, held in April at the Maria Antonia University Centre, University of São Paulo, Brazil. Part of the Translating Ferro/Transforming Knowledge for a new filed of Production Studies (TF/TK), the symposium brought together researchers from across the UK and Brazil to discuss the work of the painter, architect and critical historian Sérgio Ferro, his legacies, and the new field of production studies.
We are delighted to announce that our Architectural Humanities research group member, Amy Butt, successfully passed her PhD viva on 30th March 2023 – with no corrections. Amy’s doctoral project, ‘“Doors that could take you elsewhere”: The Architectural Practice of Reading Science Fiction’, was highly commended by the examiners, Dr Caroline Edwards (Senior Lecturer in Literature at Birkbeck) and Dr James Kneale (Associate Professor of Geography at UCL), who were impressed by the outcome of her intellectual journey.
In his new book, On Balance: Architecture and Vertigo (Lund Humphries 2023), Davide Deriu reflects on the precarious equilibrium at the heart of contemporary cities, where the drive to conquer ever greater heights has reconfigured our notion of abyss. Exploring the spatial thrills as well as anxieties associated with vertigo, the book traces how different subjects experience, represent and transgress buildings and the spaces in between.
The presentation will be followed by a panel discussion and a drinks reception.
To book a place, please register via Eventbrite (link below).
the modernist, (41, 44-48), Winter MMXXI/XXII
Broadwater Park, Denham was created in 1984 on a dynamic site rich in history. Working with EPR Architects the UK based Danish landscape architect, Preben Jakobsen, created a landscape that is reflected by the low-rise mirrored office building. It is a rationally organised geometric landscape underlain with hydro and circular symbolism. The Great Circle, a large dimpled lawn framed by a tightly clipped field maple hedge, is the focus, counterpoised by an intricate and richly planted Secret Garden which is set in a flowing boulder framework to create a dry-river hortus. Despite Grade II listing, HS2 and a lack of landscape care now threatens the serenity of the design.
the modernists,(45; 17-20) Winter MMXXII/XXIII
In 1960s civic restructuring and political ideals led to progressive design of the new Hounslow Civic Centre. Jakobsen Landscape Architects and Urban Designers, led by Danish landscape architect Preben Jakobsen and his English architect wife Maggi Jakobsen, was appointed to create a landscape design and to integrate the new build with the adjacent Victorian park. Preben, inspired by geometry and geology, created a series of linked modernists gardens connected by polygon concrete paths, terraces, boulders and cobbles. Inside he furnished the Bürolandschaft with hanging and winter gardens. Completed in 1976 the Jakobsen design secured multiple awards, yet by 2019 the complex was demolished.
A swimming pool is typically an occasion in a story but rarely its heroine. This is unsurprising because on the surface, it is a simple object. However, its shadowy depths reveal a powerful space of imagination where spatial, socio-political, physiological, and psychological constructs are framed.
Through a series of short essays, each of which is coupled with a single image, we are going to compose an incomplete mosaic that reasserts the protean quality of the space and its relevance in contemporary society, including and equally importantly, as a space of exchange, dialogue and narration that is underlined in the format of the event.
A symposium organised by Naina Gupta.
Davide Deriu from the School of Architecture + Cities is one of the participants.
This project uses pioneering cross-disciplinary methods to examine the adaptive reuse of cinemas in London as places of worship. In doing so, the research will capture a vital snapshot of faith and diaspora in the contemporary urban landscape, which may be used to inform future heritage practices.
Davide Deriu has been invited to open the conference on ‘Made in Italy’ organised by the IR.IDE research infrastructure at the Iuav University of Venice. The event (in Italian) is the culmination of a 4-year project to which Davide previously contributed as Visiting Professor (2021-22).
Journal of Historic Buildings and Places, Volume 01, 2022, 113-124
This essay is a consideration of the very sensitive issues around the restoration and extension to the iconic modern masterpiece by Mies van der Rohe, the Neue Nationalgalerie (NNG) on the Kulturforum in Berlin. The NNG is important for the City of Berlin, not least because it is the only building realised by Mies in Europe after his emigration to the USA. But the importance of the NNG goes further than that. It is an icon of the history of twentieth century art and architecture, embodying the ideals of cosmopolitan modernism.
Between 1946 and 1951 the London County Council promoted their post-war re-construction efforts through the organization of visitors’ tours to their ‘Out-County’ estates, run in conjunction with the Ministry of Health in response to a UN proposal to co-ordinate knowledge sharing on housing production. In this presentation Julian Williams examines the LCC records of these tours and the rich insights they offer into the development of the estate as a concept for organizing housing provision in London and beyond.
At the conference, organised by the Raymond Williams Society to celebrate 100 years since the birth of socialist, cultural theorist and public intellectual Raymond Williams, Nick Beech presented a paper on the significance of William Morris in the formation of Williams’s thought. In ‘…no more than a kind of generalized swearing’: the positive valuation of William Morris by Raymond Williams’ Nick argues that ‘architecture’ – understood as a material cultural practice – illuminates Williams’s writings of the mid-1950s and early-1960s.
International conference ‘What’s Happening to Cultural Studies?’ is a three-day workshop designed to provide a focus for conversations about the shift in the role and capacities of cultural studies as an academic discipline in the twenty-first century. We stress the dual nature of the ‘discipline’: cultural studies is taught and cultural studies is researched. The relationship between these two aspects is one of the questions we hope this event will explore.
Kate Jordan (2022) Urban churches in an infrasecular landscape: three case studies from the Anglican Diocese of London, The Journal of Architecture, DOI: 10.1080/13602365.2022.2072933
Church architecture is an overlooked barometer of urban life. It holds up a unique mirror to economic models, demographics, cultural and ritual practices, and aesthetic movements in late modernity. In turn, the changing complexion of secular society has had a marked influence on the type and style of Christian architecture in the twenty-first century. This article explores the dialectical relationship between church architecture and secular society within recent critical frameworks, examining, in particular, the value of infrasecular geographies as an alternative to the post-secular lens.
This round table will gather a panel of early career researchers, practitioners and academics to discuss concerns around democracy, protest, public engagement and empowerment, social stratification and elitism. The speakers – Professor Marion Roberts, Professor Pippa Catterall, Nayyar Hussain, Minerva Fadel, Dr Kate Jordan and Dr Maja Jović (chaired by Dr Adam Eldridge) will discuss their experiences of working with marginalised social groups, negotiation of power, agency and identity globally, soft spacial practices and ephemeral heritage, and recording oral histories.
This LFA event is free but ticketed. Please book via Eventbrite (URL below).
Professor Christine Wall has been awarded a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship (2022) (£21,730) for the project:
“If I had a hammer”: feminist activism and the built environment 1975-2000.
Using archive sources and oral history interviews, the project charts the origins and significance of key campaign groups which emerged during a period of optimism and dynamism in feminist, built environment activism. The research will document the working lives of many of the women who were involved, the policies they influenced, the the building work they completed and aims to situate and include feminist activism in the history of the twentieth century, built environment.
Davide Deriu will give a lecture at the Addressing Dizziness symposium which takes place at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, on 4-6 May, 2022. This process-oriented working symposium aims to discuss ways of localizing, recognizing, approaching, and countering dizziness at different scales and disciplines. Through the prisms of art, architecture, philosophy, somatics, post-colonial theory and remembrance cultures, the event aims to uncover various layers of physical and social dizziness. Curated by Ruth Anderwald + Leonhard Grond, artist-researchers and professors at the Zentrum Fokus Forschung, University of Applied Arts.
The AHRA Research Student Symposium 2022, “Voices in Architecture”, considers voices in architectural research, posing the critical questions: who speaks and for whom? How do we give voice without assuming authority? How do we listen without judgment? How do we adjust the volume of our own voices? A key objective of the symposium will be to connect architectural research with wider political concerns around democracy, protest and populism and we are particularly attentive to processes of public engagement and empowerment, social stratification and elitism. The symposium also seeks to investigate diverse modes of production and their social worlds, explorations of vernacular traditions, informal settlements, transient and temporary architectures.
The exhibition Falling Away brings together Catherine Yass’s vertiginous film installations at Ambika P3. The first retrospective of the artist’s extensive body of film work, it spans the past two decades and includes a new work made in response to the impact of COVID-19 and global warming. Ambika P3’s vast subterranean space engages audiences in the disorientating effects of Yass’s films, which portray architecture in a state of construction, abandonment or demolition. By engaging with our perception of verticality, these works address the relationship between material structures and the powers and institutions that embody them.