Dr Simon Richards BA, MA, PhD
Lecturer in Architectural Theory and History
My interests in architecture emerged through witnessing extraordinary buildings emerge out of the Arabian desert during my childhood, and subsequently through studying philosophy, literature and art at university, and this theoretical- and humanities-oriented approach formed the basis of my research in two departments of Art History (University of Essex, 2001-2005, ‘Senior Research Officer’; University of Leicester, 2005-17, ‘Associate Professor’).
I have accumulated considerable curriculum design and teaching experience across the arts, architecture, literature and philosophy, and my time at Leicester also saw me take on the following managerial roles: Research Director, REF Coordinator, Impact and Environment Officer, International Liaison Officer, Admissions Director, Deputy Head of Department, Curriculum Transformation Lead, Member of School Management and Programme Approval Boards.
Outline of main research interests:
My research is located where architecture seeks to intersect with and influence human life, and I strive to understand the complex workings and motivations of this contentious yet often neglected aspect of the discourse.
I have studied architecture and planning – both as theory and built form – from the viewpoint of how they are claimed to have an improving effect upon human behaviour. This has led to detailed explorations of the psychological, sociological and philosophical sources that architect-planners draw upon for their theory and design work. These ideas are among the most fascinating but also troubling features of the discourse of architecture and planning. They are fascinating because they sometimes involve a genuine philosophical view about the nature of humanity, about what people are and what they need. In these cases they show that architects care and think deeply about improving the conditions of life. But they can be troubling as well as they often involve passing judgment on the lives and behaviour of ordinary people, as well as a desire to reform them through the influence of the built environment.
My first major exploration of this topic was in relation to Le Corbusier, who has been criticized for an oversight: advocating architecture that neglected community. By tracing previously unexplored links with thinkers like Blaise Pascal, Carl Gustav Jung, Georges Bataille and Albert Camus, I discovered that this was not a mistake but deliberate. Le Corbusier had a clear view of what people should be doing to live meaningful lives, and socializing, community life and political engagement were not considered important. His cities were designed to keep people apart for the purpose of spiritual self-exploration in cell-like apartments. Once this is understood many of the choices and consequences of Le Corbusier’s life – his art, theory, politics and planning – fall into place. This research was published as Le Corbusier and the Concept of Self by Yale University Press in 2003.
This research was extended via an AHRC Research Grant to ask the same questions of architects and planners over the last half century. While the architectural approaches and formal solutions have changed radically over this period, the commitment to use them to reform behaviour and society has not. On the contrary, this commitment has become more deeply entrenched and has diversified in complex ways. Architect-planners continue to design in accordance with assumptions about how people should be living, and this is tied to a multitude of ideas about human nature and the self, about community, spirituality, bodily growth, the mind and memory, and many other things besides. My research involved studying the major departures in theory and practise over this period, covering the topics of community-regeneration, the turn towards history, memory and tradition, and the incorporation of linguistic paradigms and other philosophical models, as well as tracing their sources and origins through the history of ideas occasionally as far back as the Enlightenment. I investigated many of the most influential architect-planners, theorists and projects over this period and conducted interviews with figures as diverse as Jane Jacobs, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Leon Krier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Jencks, Michael Hays, Dalibor Vesely, Andrés Duany, Kenneth Frampton, Mario Gandelsonas, Anthony Vidler, Robert Maxwell and others. Finally, I assessed this discourse in relation to recent work in the fields of environmental and behavioural psychology. This research was published as Architect Knows Best: Environmental Determinism in Architecture Culture from 1956 to the Present by Ashgate in 2012. Robert Lamb Hart’s recent book (A New Look at Humanism: in Architecture, Landscapes and Urban Design, Meadowlark Publishing, 2016) explores this theme from the viewpoint of a practitioner architect, and I was delighted to be invited to write the preface.
Aesthetics, Tradition and Machines
I am fascinated also with the following topics, which have informed several of my recent and forthcoming publications:
- the way concepts of architectural tradition and the vernacular have been reconstituted in modern and contemporary practice;
- comparative aesthetics, especially the intersection of western and eastern architectural aesthetics;
- machine, technology and cybernetic fetishism in mid-20th century architectural discourse.
Recently I began a collaboration with Dr. Mantha Zarmakoupi, of the School of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham, to coordinate an AHRC Network Grant entitled ‘Delos Network’. We have assembled an international network of scholars and practitioners to re-interrogate the history and legacy of the Delos Symposia, which were established in the 1960s by architect-planners Contantinos Doxiadis and Jacqueline Tyrwhitt and represented the first coordinated attempt to apply environmental science to architecture and planning on a global scale. They called this ‘Ekistics’: “the science of human settlements”. Although not very well known nowadays, the Delos Symposia attracted the foremost intellectuals and practitioners of the day and lay the foundations for the United Nations ‘Habitat’ agenda. We plan to explore the history and relevance of the Delos Symposia for architecture and planning today, through three workshops (Birmingham 2018, Athens 2018, Loughborough 2019) as well as an edited collection of essays. For details of the project or to get involved, please contact us directly.
Grants and contracts:
- ‘Concepts of Self in Post-War Architecture and Planning’
AHRC Research Grant (£310,000): June 2001 – June 2005. Lead researcher, network coordinator and conference co-organizer, under Directorship of Prof. Jules Lubbock, Dept. of History of Art and Film, University of Essex.
- ‘Delos Network’
AHRC Network Grant (£43,000): September 2017 – September 2019. PI collaborating with Dr. Mantha Zarmakoupi (CI), School of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Birmingham.
Current teaching responsibilities:
- CVA059: Architectural History
- CVAXXX: Critical Theory
Current administrative responsibilities:
- Part A Year Tutor
- ‘“The Moving Image of Eternity”: idealism, incompleteness and Ise Jingū’, in Philosophy East and West, Vol. 68, No. 3, July 2018.
- ‘Weighing up intangible heritage: a view from Ise’, in Amy Barnes and Sheila Watson (eds), Heritage and Interpretation, Routledge, London, 2018.
- Architect Knows Best: Environmental Determinism in Architecture Culture from 1956 to the Present, Ashgate, London, 2012.
- Le Corbusier and the Concept of Self, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003.
Chapters and Articles
- Foreword to Robert Lamb Hart, A New Look at Humanism: in Architecture, Landscapes, and Urban Design, Meadowlark Publishing, 2016.
- ‘“Shadows in the Farthest Corners”: The Pursuit of National Identity in Japanese Architectural Aesthetics’, in M. Gamal Abdelmonem and Ruth Morrow (eds), Peripheries, Routledge, London, 2012.
- ‘“Vernacular” Accommodations: Wordplay in Contemporary-Traditional Architecture Theory’, in Architectural Research Quarterly, Vol. 16, Issue 1, Spring 2012.
- ‘“Halfway Between the Electron and the Universe”: Doxiadis and the Delos Symposia’, in Gerald Adler, Timothy Brittain-Catlin and Gordana Fontana-Giusti (eds), Scale: Imagination, Perception and Practice in Architecture, Routledge, London, 2011.
- ‘Pop Architecture: A Toxic History’, in Mark Crinson and Claire Zimmerman (eds), Neo-avant-garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2010.
- ‘Destroy All Humans!’, in Iain Boyd Whyte (ed.), The Man Made-Future: Planning, Education and Design in the mid-20th Century, Routledge, London, 2007.
- ‘The Antisocial Urbanism of Le Corbusier’, in Common Knowledge, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 2007.
- ‘Communities of Dread’, in Sarah Menin (ed.), Constructing Place: Mind and the Matter of Place-Making, Routledge, London, 2003.
I provide architecture-related referee assessments to a wide variety of publishers and outlets, including:
Yale University Press
Journal of Architecture
Architectural Research Quarterly
Architectural Theory Review
Open Arts Journal
Journal for Asian and African Studies
Journal of Rural Studies and Journal of Interrupted Studies
I have done architecture book reviews for The Art Book, Common Knowledge, Urban History and the Times Higher Education.
I have supervised the following research students and projects to successful completion:
- Dr. Ling-Ching Chiang, on representations of the city in Taiwanese New Wave Cinema (2013);
- Dr. Julie Moss, on the heritage debates and refurbishment proposals surrounding British modernist housing developments (2015);
- Dr. Mahmood Khoshnaw, on the post-colonial critique of western literary utopias (2016);
- Dr. David Maddock, on Roger Fry, Clive Bell and the development of an Anglo-American formalist orthodoxy in early 20th century painting and aesthetics (2017).
Currently I supervise the following students and projects:
- Irini Perdikogianni, on Constantinos Doxiadis and the Delos Network;
- Jun Li, on the uptake and adaptation of Garden City ideals in 20th century Chinese planning (2nd supervisor, in collaboration with Prof. Simon Gunn, Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester).
I would be interested to receive and consider research proposals in areas related to the following:
- Enlightenment through to contemporary architecture, planning, theory and heritage;
- Representations of buildings, cities and space in art, literature and film;
- Aesthetics (art and architecture).