Upcoming Events

Architectural History after Summerson

Lecture – Steven Brindle

  • 26 February 2020
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • 50th Anniversary Lecture
  • Paul Mellon Centre

Sir John Summerson's great book, Architecture in Britain, was published in 1953 and remained in print until the end of the century, gaining canonical status as the central text on the subject. Yet, even in relation to Summerson's wider oeuvre, the book was notable for its concentration on architectural style and aesthetic judgments, to the virtual exclusion of economics, society, functions, clients, craftsmen, technique, materials, building archaeology and context. How valuable or intellectually sustainable is architectural history when it is so constrained in its approach? Does the connoisseur's approach to architecture, in which historic buildings and architects's careers are treated primarily as subjects for the connoisseur or critic's aesthetic judgment, have any real intellectual validity or social value? How did Summerson's judgments affect or support the contemporary dismissal of late Georgian and Victorian architecture, and how do these judgments seem today? Has this approach already passed into history – how has the subject developed since – and what can we still learn from Summerson, his great book, and his approach?

Event timings

18.00–19.00 Lecture

19.00–19.30 Q&A

19.30–20.00 Drinks reception

Image listing: Castletown House, Kildare, c. 1719–30, probably designed by Alessandro Galilei and Edward Lovett Pearce. Sir John Summerson curtly dismissed its 'stupendous monotony'. Does this judgment embody any real perceptiveness or intellectual value, in relation to a building of such significance?

About the speaker

  • BRINDLE, Steven

    Steven Brindle read history at Keble College, Oxford and remained there to study for a doctorate on medieval architecture in Spain. He has worked for the last thirty-four years for English Heritage, in a variety of roles, and is currently a senior properties historian in the Curatorial Department. He has published widely on the history of architecture and engineering, with major works including Paddington Station, Its History and Architecture (2004), Brunel, the Man Who Built the World (2005), and Windsor Castle A Thousand Years of a Royal Palace (as editor, 2018). His latest book is Architecture in Britain and Ireland, 1530–1830, published by the Paul Mellon Centre in 2023.