Architecture, Space and Society Centre: Reading Group 19th May 2016

Birkbeck’s Architecture Space and Society Centre is inaugurating a reading group. It will be a forum for wide ranging discussion of architecture, space and society, across periods, geographies and disciplines.

Each session will be led by an ASSC member (or 2-3 members), who will assign preparatory tasks.  These will normally be texts to read, but preparation could also include a building, site, or set of images to look at, for instance.

All academics and research students at Birkbeck with an interest in the themes discussed are welcome to participate. ASSC speakers from beyond Birkbeck will also be invited and encouraged to invite their research students.

1st session, Thursday 19 May 3.30-5pm, 43 Gordon Sq, Room 112

Architecture Across Time – led by Nic Sampson and Leslie Topp

To inaugurate the reading group, we have chosen two texts which address the question of what happens when we look at issues in architecture across disparate time periods.

Alexander Nagel, Medieval Modern: Art out of Time (2012), chapters 2, 18 and 19.

Reyner Banham, ‘Revenge of the Picturesque: English Architectural Polemics, 1945-1965’ in John Summerson, ed., Concerning Architecture: Essays on Architectural Writers and Writing presented to Nikolaus Pevsner (1968)

Nagel’s book is a provocative argument for a new flexibility in history of art that tries to shake up our strict adherence to periods and style, and see important multiple connections between modern and pre-modern art.  We’ll read a short intro chapter in which he sets out his stall and two chapters (also fairly short) on the medieval cathedral and early 20th-c architectural modernism (German and Russian).

The Banham essay, with its rich account of the polemics around British post-war modernism and various periods and traditions in pre-modern architecture (from Renaissance humanism to 18th-century picturesque), is a lively document of post-war debates about period-hopping with a close link to Birkbeck’s famous past Professor Pevsner.

If you are interested in attending please contact Leslie Topp (, who can send you the readings.

The reading group will be followed by:

Thurs 19 May, 18.00-19.30, Birkbeck main building, entered off Torrington Square, Room 153

Mark Crinson, ‘Brutalism: From New to Neo’

The last few years have seen a wealth of publications and exhibitions about Brutalism, yet without any quite seeming definitive. This talk from Professor Mark Crinson (Manchester) sifts through them, and attempts to separate what they say about our present preoccupations from what they say about the past. What was Brutalism? Why does it still seem to separate us into either ardent advocates or angry critics? This public talk looks ahead to Professor Crinson joining History of Art at Birkbeck.