In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Pugin’s LawMark Swenarton
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
The Work of Sir Gilbert Scott 
by David Cole.
Architectural Press, 244 pp., £25, May 1980, 0 85139 723 9
Show More
Lutyens Country Houses 
by Daniel O’Neill.
Lund Humphries, 167 pp., £8.95, May 1980, 0 85331 428 4
Show More
A Revolution in London Housing: LCC Housing Architects and their Work 1893-1914 
by Susan Beattic.
GLC/Architectural Press, 127 pp., £6.95, July 1980, 0 85139 560 0
Show More
Show More

‘The history of architecture,’ wrote A.W.N. Pugin in 1843, ‘is the history of the world.’ To judge from the three books under review, present-day orthodoxy is something very different. In looking at British architecture of the 19th and 20th centuries, the authors deal, not with the global issues envisaged by Pugin but with the careers of famous (and, in one case, not-so-famous) architects. The history of architecture, we are asked to believe, is the history of the individuals whose names appeared on architectural drawings.

The justification for this biographical approach to architecture is not at all clear. Buildings are’so obviously social, not only in production and use but also in meaning, that it seems almost wilfully perverse to treat them just in terms of the architect who designed them. If we look, for instance, at Akroydon, the model housing scheme built in Halifax around 1860, we see an intriguing conflict over architectural style, generated by the contradictions of social reformism. Colonel Akroyd, the woollen manufacturer, saw his housing scheme as a means of promoting home-ownership among the working class (the Halifax Permanent Building Society, founded in 1852, was involved in the venture), but he was also attached to the idea of the old English village, with a contented working population subservient to and dependent on ‘the master’. Akroyd wanted the houses to be gothic in style: ‘this taste of our forefathers,’ he said, ‘strengthens home and house attachment [and] entwines the present with the memory of the past.’ But the social connotations of gothic cottages clashed with the independence of would-be house owners, as Akroyd recounted: ‘The dormer windows were supposed to resemble the style of almshouses, and the independent workmen who formed the building association positively refused to accept this feature of the Gothic, which to their minds was degrading.’

What does this incident tell of the meaning attached to gothic? How did this conflict work out in the built form of Akroydon? In vain we look for answers to questions of this sort in the new study of the principal architect involved. Sir Gilbert Scott. David Cole looks at 19th-century architecture as if from the drawing-office of the architect: commissions appear (their source and significance is not questioned); the architect provides a design, supervises construction and moves on to the next job. The story is one of clients, briefs, technical difficulties and costs, with continuity provided by the architect’s rise to fame – a combination of office register and personal diary. The account of Akroydon gives the flavour of Mr Cole’s narrative:

Scott’s debut as a town planner came in 1855 when Colonel Akroyd, the Halifax manufacturer, commissioned him to build Akroydon. Scott’s preoccupation was wiih the style of the buildings, and he was unskilled at relating them to each other. He laid out a double row of cottages separated by a rear access path, surrounding a large grass square. This was an improvement on much contemporary work, but showed insufficient thought over the problem. Scott’s former pupil. Crossland carried out the work but Scon also designed All Souls’ vicarage nearby.

Scott began the Vaughan Library at Harrow School in 1861 ...

When he died. Scott was regarded as one of the leading architects of the time. When Sir Edwin Lutyens died, he was mourned, not just as the greatest English architect of his day, but as the greatest English architect ever. To the Modern Movement, however, Lutyens was an architectural and social reactionary, to be excised from the history book, and it is only in the last few years, with the Modern Movement itself falling into disfavour, that he has again become of interest to the majority of architects. Daniel O’Neill’s study of Lutyens Country Houses is a response to this renewal of interest and, as such, works admirably; it is perceptive in its discussion of the buildings and balanced in its judgments – no mean feat, considering the abuse and the adulation which still surround the subject. The book, however, remains firmly within the biographical interpretation of architecture: the aim, we are told, is to highlight the ‘salient characteristics of [Lutyens’s] work at each stage of his career’. The result is that the buildings are discussed as if they were the work of Lutyens alone. The owner of the house appears briefly in the role of client, to set the process in motion, but then disappears, and the building process is scarcely mentioned at all; in trying to understand these buildings, we can, it seems, ignore owner and builder (to say nothing of intangible realities, such as ideology or social distribution of wealth) and need refer only to the mind and intentions of the architect. Accordingly, the social relationships (master to servant, husband to wife, family to outsiders) which, as Mark Girouard has shown, were crucial in determining the form of the country house are omitted altogether. Mr O’Neill is not interested in the life of the building after construction is completed, but only in its architectural conception and birth – a miraculous feat of monogencsis, it seems – achieved by the architect alone. Throughout, the image is of the architect as artist, and the building is treated as though it were as much his personal creation as a picture is that of the individual painter.

That confusion with art history has much to do with the deplorable condition of architectural history can be seen clearly in A Revolution in London Housing. Following its creation in 1889, the London County Council launched the first major public housing programme in the country. This programme transformed notions about the scale and quality of public housing, setting new standards for working-class housing and, at the Boundary Street estate in Shoreditch, creating a new image for urban housing. Largely undertaken by the Council’s Works Department (established in 1892 as the first direct labour organisation in Britain), the housing programme was a hotly contested political issue, and it was sharply curtailed when control of the Council passed to the Conservatives (or Moderates, as they were called in London) in 1907. The subject is, therefore, both of major historical importance and of considerable contemporary relevance. Yet in dealing with this housing revolution, Susan Beattie is concerned almost exclusively with the attribution of the various buildings to the individual members of the Architect’s Department. Her interests lie with the architects whose ‘initials... appear on most of the surviving contract drawings’: with finding out who they were, where they trained, which architects they admired and what other buldings they designed. Once again, the result is that most of the major issues involved in the architecture of these schemes pass by unnoticed: the reader is left with a series of visual analyses of individual buildings, interspersed with short biographies of the architects responsible for their design.

What emerges most forcibly from these books is the inadequacy of the biographical approach to architecture. Again and again, architecture is removed from the social realm and made into a purely individual affair. Yet what is fascinating about architecture is that it embodies, in the single material form of the building, a range of disparate (and frequently contradictory) elements: the building must perform, at the same time, on a number of different levels. St Pancras station and hotel was the outcome, among other things, of the commercial rivalry of industrial capital (in the form of the railway companies) and of its power in relation to the population whose homes were demolished in order to clear the site; of the technical capabilities of the building industry at that time, and of the contractual system under which they were mobilised; of the revulsion of the intelligentsia against the social effects of industrialisation, and the translation of this feeling into architecture; of the functional and structural requirements of a railway terminus, or, more accurately, what these were thought to be; and of the aesthetic preferences and design capacities of Sir Gilbert Scott’s office. Yet the authors of the books under review would take only the last of these factors for consideration, and would treat the building as though the others did not exist. They would not ask how these different factors were brought together in the building – how did the form of the building reconcile myths about the world with the material realities of the world? – but would ask only about the architect.

To reduce architecture to the career of the architect is not only to ignore many of the factors that determine the form of a building: it is also to presume that the individual who signed the drawings was, alone, responsible for the design. Leaving aside the question of the responsibility of the individual for the ideas that he or she holds (a traditional liberal assumption that would be widely questioned in the social sciences), this presumption is manifestly absurd in the case of major architectural practices and complex buildings. A former pupil of Gilbert Scott’s, T.G. Jackson, recalled:

There are many amusing tales which show the slight acquaintance he had with what came out of his office: how he admired a new church from the railway carriage window and was told it was one of his own; how he went into a church in process of building, sent for the clerk of works, and began finding fault with this and with that till the man said: ‘You know, Mr Scott, this is not your church; this is Mr Street’s; your church is farther down the road.’

It may well be asked why if the biographical approach to architecture is so inadequate it should be so predominant in historical studies. Probably the most important reason for its popularity in recent writings is that, although architectural history is generally recognised as a legitimate subject, it is underdeveloped as an academic discipline. Nowhere in Britain is architectural history taught as a degree course in its own right: as a result, it remains, to an extent unimaginable in the other humanities, a field for what 19th-century architects would have called ‘amateurs and intruders’. Books on architectural history (witness those under review) are generally written by architects, art historians or gentlemen: accordingly the intellectual basis of the subject consists either of the everyday perceptions of those who design or commission buildings, or of the academic procedures developed by and for another discipline. Thus we get architects’ architectural history (the study of Gilbert Scott), and art historians’ architectural history (London housing): in the one case, the assumption is that ‘architecture is what architects do,’ which leads to an inventory of the architect’s commissions; in the other, buildings are treated as though they were pictures, to be attributed, and subjected to visual analysis. In neither case is this a form of architectural history that could be called an academic discipline, for it has neither a theoretical (as opposed to a descriptive) definition of what it is studying, nor methods of study that are adequate for its subject.

A decade or so ago it was thought that these deficiencies in architectural history might be met by borrowing the theories and methods of another discipline – namely, linguistics. Semiology, it was proclaimed, would provide the model for the academic study of architecture: Barthes and Saussurc became the luminaries; ‘discourse’ and ‘signification’ the key terms. But this was simply to repeat what had happened a long time before in relation to art history: again, concepts and procedures developed by another discipline were taken over and applied to architecture, and, not surprisingly, it was eventually found that they did not fit. In part at least, it is as a reaction to this semiological episode (which rarely produced insights to match the pretensions of its vocabulary) that we see architectural history returning to the relative safety of an empirical and biographical approach. Such an approach, as I hope to have shown, cannot be regarded as satisfactory. It is only by developing its own theory and its own methods that architectural history can generate a real understanding of its subject and transform itself from a pastime and a sideline into an intellectual discipline. It is time now for architectural historians to advance beyond Pugin, and specify precisely the relationships that link ‘architecture’ to ‘the world’.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.