A new AHRC-funded network

This is the post excerpt.

We are delighted to announce the launch of a new AHRC-funded international research network on Architecture and Society in an Age of Reform, which aims to establish a dynamic, long-lasting, multi- and interdisciplinary research forum to investigate the relationship between architecture and society in the period 1760-1840.

Merseyside, LIVERPOOL, St Michael -in-the-Hamlet (Ian Hamilton) #001 (1)
St Michael-in-the-Hamlet, Liverpool. Image courtesy of the National Churches Trust.

Project resumed

If you’ve been checking our website over the past year, you might have wondered why nothing seemed to be happening. Unfortunately a series of unforeseen and unforeseeable events led to the project’s postponement. However we are now up and running again and looking forward to resuming our networking activities. Please come back soon to see our latest news.

Anne Hultzsch on the Liverpool Workshop

The new AHRC-funded international research network on Architecture and Society in an Age of Reformaims to establish a dynamic, long-lasting, multi- and interdisciplinary research forum to investigate the relationship between architecture and society in the period 1760-1840. On 19-20 September 2017 it organised a first workshop in Liverpool. Over two days a small group of scholars from the UK, the Netherlands, and Norway visited Georgian buildings around Liverpool considering issues such as user experience, patronage and knowledge, radical vs. conservative, as well as the specific mercantile and industrial context of Liverpool.

During the day of visits, we visited a number of cast iron churches, such as St George’s in Everton and St-Michael-in-the-Hamlet, both based on designs by Thomas Rickman in collaboration with the iron foundry owner John Cragg. We also saw the Wellington Rooms and the Lyceum, both built by subscription and the latter becoming the first subscription library. The ensuing discussion evolved from the networks of merchants and scholars involved in erecting these and other buildings to the ways in which they can be placed into this period of political and social transformations.

This first workshop will be followed by two further events in Birmingham and Bristol as well as an international conference next autumn. Thank you for the stimulating event!

Gill Hedley on the King of Prussia’s Gold Medal


I have written a book, Free Seats For All to mark the bicentenary of the Incorporated Church Building Society (1818-2018. ICBS was finally absorbed into the National Churches Trust which presents the King of Prussia Gold Medal for church repair and conservation architecture each year. Its history is just being revealed.

In May 1857, the Prussian Consul to Britain passed on a letter from the King of Prussia’s architect, Friedrich August Stüler to Rev Thomas Bowdler, Secretary to the ICBS. Bowdler had died the previous year so the letter only came before the Board in July 1857.

Stüler was a very distinguished architect, pupil of Schinkel, and had just completed his masterpiece the Neues Museum in Berlin. He was commanded by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, a passionate and committed patron of architecture, to express thanks to ICBS for some plans and drawings that he had received “showing the very satisfactory activity of the Society.” He enclosed a gold medal “to be presented by the Society at its own discretion in the name of his Majesty to the Architect whose exertions may have been most conducive to its success.” It was clear from the rest of the letter that Stüler had either recently visited London or had wider correspondence with someone in ICBS. At the time of writing he was involved in the design of three churches in Prussia and the completion of the Gothic cathedral of Cologne, a particularly important project for the King.
The ICBS Board looked long and deeply into the mouth of this gift horse. They discovered a ‘communication’ from Samuel Sanders Teulon about plans that the late Mr. Bowdler had suggested to be sent to Prussia; the committee postponed discussion yet again to find out what this all meant. Finally, in December 1857, they carefully stated that “the Board cannot admit that there exists any claim on the Society for the expenses of the same” and resolved to ask Bowdler’s executors if the Board should follow the King’s wishes. Almost a year after the letter was sent it was decided to award the medal, at some point, as there appeared to be no quid pro quo or hidden financial problem.
The medal was designed by Christoph Carl Pfeuffer inspired by a medal designed by Benjamin Wyon that Friedrich Wilhelm himself received on a visit to England in 1842 for the christening of the future Edward VII for whom the King stood as sponsor (or royal godfather).

Friedrich August Stüler is known to have been in England that same year, specifically looking at cast iron buildings. and we can presume that his research would have included the iron churches built in Liverpool by Thomas Rickman.

GILL HEDLEY www.gillhedley.co.uk

Edward Gillin on Scientific Knowledge and Architecture in an Age of Reform

The place and value of science in Britain during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, presents a fascinating paradox. It is very hard to talk of a single idea of science at this time, but empirical and experimental approaches to natural philosophy carried troublesome political connotations. Science, after all, was something eagerly promoted in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, with state schemes to measure the Earth and decimalize measurement especially celebrated. By the 1820s, natural philosophy remained a difficult proposition. Geology, chemistry, phrenology, and astronomy could all be used to suggest a materialistic, Godless, universe. Yet at the same time, new knowledge of nature, theologically informed, was seen as something which could sure-up and secure existing social and economic order. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the works of William Whewell, John Herschel, and Mary Somerville during the 1830s.

This complicated relationship between science and society had architectural ramifications. Through buildings to display scientific knowledge, new forms of construction and materials, and interpretations over how different styles represented nature, architecture engendered these tensions over science. In my own work, I have explored how natural philosophers, architects, experimentalists, politicians, and engineers, all sought to rebuild the new Houses of Parliament as a great work of science. They wanted to mobilize the latest knowledge to provide the nation with a fitting new Gothic legislature. Geologists Henry De la Beche and William Smith selected stone for the building’s exterior. The Astronomer Royal, George Biddell Airy, and mathematician Edmund Beckett Denison, worked to produce a clock and time system of unparalleled accuracy to control government business. Scottish experimentalist David Boswell Reid worked to chemically control Parliament’s atmosphere, while the Cornish engineer, Goldsworthy Gurney, laboured to introduce glorious gas illumination for Lords and Commoners alike.

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The construction of Charles Barry’s new Palace of Westminster followed the destruction of the original Parliament’s destruction in a fire in 1834. It was therefore built at the end of Britain’s ‘Age of Reform’ (c.1760-1840). Indeed, the 1832 Great Reform Act was perhaps the zenith of Britain’s reform legislation, which included Catholic emancipation in 1829, the end of slavery in 1833, municipal corporation reform in 1835, and a series of free trade moves which culminated in the abolition of the corn laws in 1846. The new Parliament’s architecture, therefore, reflected a rapidly reforming state and changing society. The place of science within this society was uncertain, but central.

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Britain’s new Parliament embodied the nation’s tensions between tradition and progress. It represented a romanticised, agrarian, Christian people, but also a rapidly urbanizing and industrial country. A Gothic, medieval fantasy, it was also an assertion of modernity and a claim to how society should employ science and trust new knowledge.

The forthcoming AHRC project, Architecture and Society in an Age of Reform, provides an exciting chance to explore some of these themes in the years before Barry’s work at Westminster. While the relationship between architecture, society, and knowledge is only one subject of interest within this incredibly rich and exciting period, it is one which I think is enormously promising. In many ways, architecture was the most prominent and publically visible manifestation of a society’s use of knowledge. Its investigation offers new understandings of the tensions between radical and conservative architecture, and provides lessons over how architects and philosophers worked to reform and reimagine society.  How the forthcoming discussions explore this is something which I, for one, am eagerly awaiting.

Dr Edward Gillin is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cambridge, working in the history of the science of sound in the nineteenth century. His DPhil (University of Oxford) examined the relationship between science and architecture at Parliament during the mid-nineteenth century. This should be out as a monograph in October 2017, published by Cambridge University Press, entitled The Victorian Palace of Science.

Markian Prokopovych on The Habsburgs, Architecture and Social Reform

How can imperial patronage influence architectural development and social change more generally? The history of the Habsburgs’ involvement in architecture and urban planning across the vast regions of the empire provides an interesting illustration. One of the aspects of my work on the history of Lemberg (also known as Lwow, Lvov and Lviv due to its multinational composition), an important provincial capital of the Habsburg Empire is the revision of the Habsburg role in the modernisation of the region.

Panorama of Lemberg by Lestat (Jan Mehlich) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

In the course of the long nineteenth century, Lemberg changed from a decaying Baroque town to a booming modern metropolis. Imperial control, funding and patronage played an important role in this transformation. The first decades after the annexation of Lemberg in the First Partition of Poland in 1772 in particular coincided with Neo-Absolutist reforms that had far-reaching consequences in all spheres of government, society and everyday life. Emperor Joseph II’s keen interest in the new province and its capital city provided for the economic and urban development that would outlive the years of reaction following his death in 1790. All public construction in the first half of the nineteenth century was not only pending upon the approval from the Royal Chancellery in Vienna, but also contingent on central funding and personal resources. Due to the circulation of cadre involved in construction across the empire, architectural designs and constructed buildings became much more alike. As Lemberg’s historic centre became surrounded by broad boulevards that had replaced the derelict city walls, here, too, the new Town Hall, the Governor’s Palace, the theatre and the Polish Library displayed that distinctive touch of austere Viennese Neoclassicism.

Through such reforms, the functionaries of the new imperial state aimed, as they put it, at turning local ‘Sarmatian beasts into men’. Irrespective of the arrogance that such attitudes entailed, the transformation of Lemberg’s public spaces in just over a few decades had indeed been spectacular. It is reported in government correspondence, memoirs and other personal accounts of administrative functionaries, theatre directors and travellers and is also apparent in visual material such as the paintings of city views that became particularly popular in the mid-nineteenth century. There is all evidence to suggest that both the newcomers and the locals had learned the new ways of living their city. This, however, did not mean they all necessarily accepted the aesthetic system of coordinates of an average imperial clerk or building engineer. Polish city guides that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century would be merciless about the dull, ‘barrack-like’ architecture that Vienna brought to Lemberg. However, as they walked the new streets lined with simple Neoclassical facades that replaced the former palaces of Renaissance and Baroque glory, some denizens of the city probably also wondered about the efficiency of other imperial reforms.

Karol Auer, View of Lemberg's main boulevard, 1830
Karol Auer, View of Lemberg’s main boulevard, 1830

Of course, the way the empire shaped urban spaces and their use through architectural innovation did not stop in the middle of the nineteenth century but continued until the collapse of the empire in 1918, and in many respects even beyond that date. Some of the changes that Vienna initiated in Lemberg and other provincial capitals at the turn of the nineteenth century foreshadowed those implemented later in the imperial capital. Looking at how architecture was regulated and used in those cities can tell us not only how their users felt about it but what they and others thought about the imperial state.

Dr Markian Prokopovych is a Leverhulme Research Fellow in the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies at the University of Birmingham working on Central and Eastern European cultural history in the long nineteenth century. His book Habsburg Lemberg: Architecture, Public Space and Politics in the Galician Capital, 1772-1914 (Purdue University Press, 2009) deals with several issues pertient to our project’s agenda, such as user experience (through research on diaries, letter correspondence, travelbooks and memoirs), government and private funding and patronage, and the political uses of style (especially Neoclassicism) in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Habsburg Empire.