Every year the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain holds a one-day symposium on a particular aspect of the history of architecture – recent symposia have been on in-house architects, on Wren’s legacy, and on the eighteenth-century volumes of engravings of buildings entitled Vitruvius Britannicus.

The Symposium for 2017 will look at questions about how we study buildings, from ancient times up to the present day - questions at the heart of current architectural history debates.

Two deaths and two conferences prompted the symposium. The deaths were those of two of the greatest English architectural historians of the twentieth century, Howard Colvin in 2007 and Ronald Brunskill in 2015; the conferences were both in 2011, one the SAHGB Symposium, ‘Architecture after Colvin’, the other the Liverpool University ‘New Light on Vernacular Architecture’.

At ‘Architecture after Colvin’, Professor Andrew Saint looked at the problem of ‘by’ and argued persuasively that concentration on attributions of buildings to particular architects could be a hindrance to architectural history. For some years the old idea of the polite threshold, dividing the architect-designed sheep from the vernacular goats, has been falling out of favour, although we still have an SAHGB and a VAG, an SAH and a VAF. The New Light conference showed the breadth of international scholarship on modern vernaculars.

But has ‘by’ been the main thing continuing to divide polite and vernacular? If it is rejected as the primary way of making sense of the built environment, where does this leave traditional architectural history

Have we been preoccupied by questions of the authorship of structures, and are there better and more valid ways of making sense of the built environment? Is the way forward the notion of how a building has been inhabited and lived in (like the archaeological concept of artefact biography), or should we be looking at space (within buildings or around and between them)? How can we adopt a narrative and way of working which applies not just to Britain, Europe and the United States, but also to Asia and the Global South?

The formal title of the Symposium is ‘Beyond “by”: Towards an inclusive architectural history?’ It will take place in London on Saturday 3rd June 2017, starting at 9.15 a.m., and is organised by Jonathan Kewley (Historic England). This is the weekend before the Society of Architectural Historians' annual conference in Glasgow, and delegates to it may wish to stop over in London to attend this symposium. 


9.30 Registration and coffee
10.00 Welcome and Introduction – Jonathan Kewley (symposium organiser)

Session 1: A methodological basis (Chair: Peter Guillery, Survey of London)

  • 10.10 David Clark (independent scholar), ‘It isn’t going to be what we expected’: the importance of the structure
  • 10.30 Dr Catherine Kent (Durham University), Towards a ‘buildings history’: the case of Doddington Bastle
  • 10.50 Nicholas Cooper (independent scholar) Honour and Credit: Two Themes in Jacobean Architecture
  • 11.10 Discussion
  • 11.20 Coffee

Session 2: A more nuanced approach to attribution? (Chair: David Adshead, Attingham Trust)

  • 11.50 Jiat-Hwee Chang (Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore), Inventing the Colonial Polite: Agency and Legitimacy in the Architectural Historiography of Singapore.
  • 12.10 Elizabeth M. Merrill (Postdoctoral research fellow, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin), Without attributions: finding new meaning in the history of Italian Renaissance fortification architecture.
  • 12.30 Amy Smith (Survey of London), Architecture and Collaboration at the London Hospital.
  • 12.50 Discussion
  • 13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

Session 3: Vernacular and Modernism (Chair: Dr Danielle Willkens, Auburn University)

  • 14.00 Dr Vittoria Capresi (Senior Researcher, Technische Universität, Berlin) and Dr Axel Fisher (Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Architecture, Université libre de Bruxelles), The “polite vernacular” in modernist rural landscapes and its challenge to architectural history
  • 14.20 Michele Tenzon (Research fellow / PhD candidate, Université libre de Bruxelles, Faculty of Architecture), Beyond Écochard: the works of the Service de l'urbanisme of Morocco in the Gharb.
  • 14.40 Richard Brook (Principal Lecturer, Manchester School of Architecture), ‘Regionality: agency and authorship in architecture’.
  • 15.00 Discussion
  • 15.10 Tea

Session 4: Global Vernacular (Chair: Jonathan Kewley, Historic England)

  • 15.30 Alvaro Velasco (Architectural Association), The quest for Atlantis and other vernacular myths: Reyner Banham’s understanding of history through the vernacular.
  • 15.50 Dr Ole W Fischer (Assistant Professor, History and Theory of Architecture, School of Architecture, University of Utah), Grey matter(s) – the birth of a new vernacular out of the generic?
  • 16.10 Discussion
  • 16.20 General discussion and conclusion
  • 17.00 Close

The cost (to include coffee, a sandwich lunch and tea) is £60, with reduced rates of £25 for students and £40 for early career architectural historians (within five years of their most recent degree). To book, please use the link at the top of this page.

Free Places1: This year the Society is pleased to be able to award TWENTY free places for students and early-career architectural historians. (Early career historians are defined as those who completed their most recent degree within the last five years). 

  • 1. Apply here for a free place: http://www.sahgb.org.uk/symposium-studentec-bursary.html