20 October 2023 -

Report: No More Giants: J.M. Richards, modernism and The Architectural Review by Jessica Kelly (recipient of the Research Publication Grant)

Jessica Kelly, Research Degrees Leader and Reader in Architectural & Design History at UCA, reports on the publication of her monograph titled No More Giants: J.M. Richards, modernism and The Architectural Review, which was partly funded by the DHS Research Publication Grant:

My book No More Giants: J.M. Richards, modernism and The Architectural Review was published my Manchester University Press in December 2022. The book traces the career of J.M Richards as a critic, author, committee member and the longest serving editor of The Architectural Review (AR) magazine from the late 1920s through to the 1960s. No More Giants asks what we can learn about modernism, architecture, design and culture in the mid-twentieth century through the lens of Richards’s career?

This book focusses on mediation and promotion within architecture, situating it at the intersection of design history and architectural history. Using a range of published and unpublished material, including visual and oral sources, it explores the history of modern architecture through what was written, broadcast and exhibited and the intended audiences for that media.

Thanks to the support I received from the DHS Research Publication Grant, the book includes 48 images, including 17 colour plates, which include books covers and articles from the AR, photographs of interior spaces from the home Richards’s shared with his first wife Peggy Angus and their friends. It also includes original diagrams that illustrate the networks of people and places of which Richards was a part including organisations such as the MARS group, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and the Festival of Britain.

The book looks beyond the dominant narratives of buildings and architects in architectural history, to explore the complex network of people, places and publications that constituted architectural culture and modernism during this period. It explores the ‘behind the scenes’ by tracing the entangled personal and professional networks of Richards’s career at the AR, the BBC, Penguin books and The Times newspaper, and the circle of artists and authors including Peggy Angus, Eric Ravilious and John Piper among others. In doing so, the book contextualises the history of modern architecture within the changing consumer culture and media of the mid-twentieth century.

This is a story of shifting relationships between the architectural profession, public audiences and the media. The AR was first published in 1896 and by the 1930s was closely aligned with modern architecture. As editor of the AR, Richards’ developed a specific approach to architectural criticism, which was based on promoting architecture to a public audience. He used criticism as a bridge between architects and their patrons and users. This book explores the changes and continuities in Richards’ work in the context of broader cultural shifts between experts and the public during this period.

Richards’s socialist politics and his interest in vernacular design shaped his preoccupation with anonymity in architecture. He argued that modern architects should be experts, guiding a community to create better, modern architecture, not individual ‘giants’ expressing their individuality. In his book The Castles on the Ground published in 1946, he argued that architecture was a product of the material conditions of society and that the precarity of capitalism was the cause of the lack of popular enthusiasm for modernism. His work presents a story of the changing relationships between the architectural profession, the public and the media and traces fluctuating ideas about expertise and public relations in British culture. The book finishes with a discussion of the changes that took place in architectural media and culture in the 1970s, considering the growth of television as a competitor to the architectural magazine.


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