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Rethinking the History of Architecture in Britain, 1530-1830 – six online talks by Steven Brindle

posted on 01/12/23


Historian and buildings expert Steven Brindle explores new ways of thinking about the history of architecture and building in Britain. For a long time, British architectural history was dominated by an understanding of buildings as art objects representing particular styles, created by eminent, named designers. However, since the 1970s historians have started to challenge this narrative.

In his newly published book, Architecture in Britain and Ireland, 1530-1830, Steven draws on recent scholarship to present a more holistic view, with buildings seen as constructions that evolve over time, made by society: by craftsmen and clients with complex and varied needs.

These talks will examine how the culture of building in Britain evolved from being carried in the heads and hands of craftsmen, to becoming an intellectual, paper-based discipline embodied in books and drawings. The rise of the professions that resulted fundamentally changed the way in which buildings were imagined, designed and created, a shift which is arguably the most important single theme in European architecture across these crucial centuries.

They take place every Thursday from 29th February to 4th April at 4.30pm and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (30th May 2024).

Register for the webinar series for £75

The talks

1. When is a Building Finished? Lessons from Late-Medieval Architectural Culture (29th February 2024)

The Renaissance introduced the idea that buildings should be constructed according to fixed designs by architects. Prior to that medieval building proceeded from a very different practical viewpoint, evolving in a quasi-organic way over time, without stylistic unification or the need to represent a single design. Such craft-based approaches were seen in cathedrals and castles, manor houses and parish churches, as well in ordinary housing. How did these different traditions evolve over centuries, and what might we learn from them today?

2. The Impact of the Renaissance c. 1500-1660 (7th March 2024)

In Renaissance Italy a new concept of architecture appeared as an area of artistic and intellectual activity,  embodied in books and drawings, in which the designs of buildings were generated in an ideal way, with roots in ancient classical architecture. We consider how Renaissance ideas were received in England, where the craftspeople and clients learnt how to reference classicism as a source of decorative motifs, rather than as the total system of design it was supposed to be, creating new ‘hybrid’ styles in the process. The exceptional achievements of Inigo Jones and John Webb are also considered.

3. Craftsmen and the Building Revolution of the 17th century (14th March 2024)

Famous architects like Jones, Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor may dominate architectural history, but the world in which they lived and operated was physically produced by craftsmen. The shapes and forms of buildings, the way they were conceived and their purpose, the basic design-language, the materials and practical techniques that brought them into being was the work of masons, carpenters,  bricklayers and joiners working with each other and with their patrons. This world was transformed in the 17th century in a ‘building revolution’ that took place with very little input from architects. It created a new kind of English vernacular, which developed into the provincial architecture of the Georgian age.

4. Architects and Craftsmen: Classicism and the Reign of Taste, 1660-1760 (21st March 2024)

In the 17th and 18th centuries,  skilled craftsmen – masons, carpenters, bricklayers,  joiners – managed the bulk of building in England. However, the Renaissance conception of architecture as a theoretical subject was gaining ground, as architectural books appeared in increasing numbers and the use of drawings spread. The ‘content’ of architecture was largely transferred to paper, and traditional styles retreated before the advance of classicism. Discussions and debates, often concerned with ideas of taste and correctness, began to take place within this new academic realm. By the mid-18th century the craftsmen were losing their share in the processes of design, as the professions began to take shape.

5. Roads, Landscapes and Buildings: how the Georgians reshaped their world (28th March 2024)

In the 18th century, Georgian England upgraded and developed its road network through turnpike trusts and other local initiatives. Thousands of bridges were built or rebuilt. The construction of canals provided a new bulk goods network. As the speed and ease of travel rose, England formed a single national market. The way communities organised themselves spatially and economically changed, and patterns of change and improvement spread out through the countryside. All this sparked and enabled the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, and eventually led to the creation of the railways. The implications of this for Georgian society and its architecture were immense: to a remarkable extent we still live in a late-Georgian landscape.

6. A Whole New World c. 1760-1830 (4th April 2024)

In the later Georgian age, ‘architecture’ and ‘engineering’ became vast theoretical and academic subjects embodied in books, periodicals and drawings, becoming far more complex in the process. This development enabled the formation of the modern professions. The economic and social context of architecture changed,  as reforms were enacted and society changed. Contracting developed as the normal way of managing large projects. These processes allowed clients, and educated society at large, to participate in the subject in an infinite number of ways. They fundamentally changed the ways in which architecture was conceived, discussed, designed and constructed.

The speaker

Steven Brindle

Read History at Oxford and worked for English Heritage for 34 years. He was also involved in the post-fire restoration of Windsor Castle, 1993–7. Publications include Brunel, the Man who built the World (2006), Windsor Castle: A Thousand Years of A Royal Palace (2018) and and Architecture in Britain and Ireland, 1530-1830 (2023).

Register for the webinar series for £75

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

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