Chair of Board of Studies
Research Group: Architectural History and Theory Group
Welsh School of Architecture
Bute Building, King Edward VII Avenue
In collaboration with my colleagues and former colleagues Flora Samuel, Adam Sharr and Allison Dutoit I have run our WSA conferences 'Primitive' (2005) and 'Quality' (2008). Both led to books published with Routledge. We are now planning a conference, 'Economy' to run in July 2011. This will be run by myself, Stephen Kite and Mhairi McVicar. Again with my colleagues Richard Weston, Adam Sharr, Stephen Kite and Julie Gwilliam I help edit the refereed journal Architectural Research Quarterly (arq), Cambridge University Press.
My primary research project is a study of the garden writings and designs of John Evelyn, with particular emphasis on the influence of his natural philosophy and religious ideas. The context in which Evelyn worked was one of immense cultural change and upheaval with respect to what historiography of the period often characterises as a shift from a Magical understanding of nature to a more modern understanding - mathematical and mechanical. Building on recent scholarship in the field of the history and philosophy of science, my work recasts Evelyn as not only a staunch and 'mainstream' member of the Royal Society (the vanguard of atomism, mechanical philosophy, empiricism) but also a man whose vision of nature owed more to the Hermetic tradition than to Descartes, and who saw the garden as a realm of 'Spirit', at least up until the 1660s. Thereafter his position changed.
Previous work include studies of the architecture and writing of John Wood the Elder of Bath (Primitive, 2006). Wood is often portrayed as a lone eccentric pursuing a rather dotty and anachronistic obsession with Neo-Pythagorean mysticism and cosmology in the context of an over-riding and all prevailing enlightenment rationalism. My work asserts that it is more productive to see Wood and designs for Bath in the context of the survival of Neo-Platonic Hermeticism as an important generative discipline well into the eighteenth century.
An interest which informs my teaching as well as my design and research work is the importance of cultivating perception as a basis from which to develop creative practice. I see this in part as a balance to an architectural discourse which frequently places too much faith in the transparency and adequacy of words as a medium of generation and representation, and not enough emphasis on developing the expert use of drawing, modelling and other visual/physical representations. It takes years for an individual to acquire the ability to draw or otherwise adequately describe or represent a built work. The ability to perceive the qualities of that work, I would suggest, keep pace quite closely with the ability to represent it. These are beliefs based on my experience as a practicing architect, as a student and as a teacher and as a practitioner of meditative awareness through qi gong (see ‘Revealing the Unseen’ and 'The Baths of Bath' ).