Writing about buildings/architecture for lay people

St Catherine's in the autumn
I am planning to write a New Yorker-style article on the construction of St. Catherine’s College and need your help.

Most of the people who knew Jacobsen and worked with him during the construction will not be around for that much longer, yet I feel there is a need to articulate some of the untold stories about the initial phase and the socio-material developments since then.

I know very few good ‘accounts’ of buildings or sites but have had a couple of recommendations so far:

Pretty much anything by John Betjeman (books – including the Shell County series – and TV programmes – some of the latter may be available on DVD). He was a real English eccentric with a particular love of Victorian buildings and railways – which came together in his campaign to prevent the demolition of St Pancras (there is a statue of him in the new Eurostar station). His gift was, I think, to communicate his passion for the subject and he wasn’t afraid to be critical. He also founded the Private Eye column that highlighted how our traditional and beautiful buildings were being demolished/desecrated to feed the modernistic tendencies of the 1960s and 1970s.  

One of my favourite books – for obvious reasons – is Christopher (who died very recently) and Edward Hibbert’s Encyclopedia of Oxford. It covers the architecture of the various colleges (and other buildings) and does a good job of explaining how and why things were built.

Can you think of any other sources of inspiration; fiction, factual, written, on screen, online? – any help appreciated.

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  1. Brilliant idea! I’ve always had a hard time understanding why there are so few socio-material accounts of public buildings. Having said this, the only reads I can suggest are recent ones and probably already known to you: A cautious Promethea and Give me a Gun and I will Make All Buildings Move.

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