Dr Otto Saumarez Smith
At the heart of what I do as an architectural and urban historian is the belief that focusing on cities and buildings is a brilliant way to understand abstract historical processes and political ideologies. My work views many of the profound changes that happened to the state and society in modern Britain through the lens of the built environment. I use these sources to illuminate people and ideas as well as buildings and places. The everyday built-fabric of cities is the ideal place to track and rethink significant historical questions, because it is where concepts including the welfare state, social polarisation, affluence, gentrification, deindustrialisation, narratives of crisis, and changing patterns of mobility, were made manifest, made concrete. Through my teaching I introduce students to the hidden histories that can be told through seemingly banal buildings and places.
I came to Warwick in 2019, following a four year Junior Research Fellowship at Lincoln College, Oxford, and a temporary lectureship in the History Faculty at Cambridge.
My first book is titled Boom Cities: Architect Planners and the Politics of Radical Urban Renewal in 1960s Britain. It is the first monograph about the profound transformations of British city centres in the 1960s. The book details the rise and fall of this complex and notorious subject, where it has often been said that urban planners did more damage to Britain’s cities than even the Luftwaffe had managed. The result is the first account to reveal the origins and dissolution of the cross-party consensus on modernist urban planning. The book locates architectural and planning history within its wider political, cultural, and intellectual milieu.
The book was a History Today book of the year, and has been reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement, The New Statesman, The Daily Telegraph, The Literary Review, Prospect, The RIBA Journal, Architecture Today, Planning Perspectives, Reviews in History, Context, C20 Magazine, and Contemporary British History.
I have been working towards a second monograph, provisionally titled From White Heat to Burn Out: The Twilight of Urban Modernism. This will be an archive-based, interdisciplinary history of the way that people came to disavow orthodoxies about the modernist reconstruction of the built environment during the long-1970s.
I am interested in leisure centres, post-war university architecture, inner cities, shopping centres, and the workings of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I have written about architectural practices including Gillespie, Kidd & Coia; Chamberlin Powell & Bon; Sheppard Robson; Building Design Partnership; Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis; and Powell & Moya.
- (book) Boom Cities, Architect Planners and the Politics of Radical Urban Renewal in 1960s Britain (Oxford University Press, 2019)
- (article) ‘The Lost World of the British Leisure Centre’, History Workshop Journal (2019): https://academic.oup.com/hwj/advance-article/doi/10.1093/hwj/dbz007/5519070
- (article) ‘Action For Cities: The Thatcher Government and Inner City Policy’, Urban History (2019): https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/urban-history/article/action-for-cities-the-thatcher-government-and-innercity-policy/C479FD0A7B1C821199F4EAD302F19BBE#
- (book) Barbican: Life, History, Architecture, ed. Jane Alison and Anna Ferrari (London: Barbican Art Gallery, 2014)
Editorial board of the journal Architectural History: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/architectural-history
I run a research network, called SPUD, with Professor Simon Gunn (Leicester)
Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
Trustee of the Twentieth Century Society
- BA (Warwick)
- MPhil (Cantab)
- PhD (Cantab)
Tel: +44 (0)24 765 22489
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7HS
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