AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD studentship

Housing at Abronhill 4, Cumbernauld New Town, 1967-71, by Wheeler and Sproson
© Courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland
Photographer: GW Harvey, Licensor canmore.org.uk

Wheeler & Sproson Architects: Modernity, Urbanity and Conservation

The University of Edinburgh, in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland, is seeking to appoint a suitably qualified applicant to a collaborative PhD studentship. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the studentship will examine the work of the architects H. Anthony Wheeler and Frank Sproson, who were active in Scotland between the 1950s and the 1980s. The studentship will commence in autumn 2016 and may be full time or part time.

Wheeler and Sproson was a leading architectural practice in Scotland between the 1950s and the 1980s, winning 19 Saltire Awards and Commendations and 12 Civic Trust Awards and Commendations. Their work ranged from individual houses to major public housing schemes and institutional buildings. The practice’s archive is housed at Historic Environment Scotland. It covers 1300+ post-war projects, and is unparalleled in completeness and integrity as a single national collection (with the exception of the Spence Glover & Ferguson archive).

With a background in History, Architectural History, History of Art, or a related discipline, a real interest in post-war architecture, and, ideally, some experience of archival research, the successful candidate will write a history of Wheeler and Sproson’s work, drawing on this rich archive. The thesis will explore the ideas that underpinned the creation and reception of Wheeler and Sproson’s work. It will combine archival research with on-site survey. A broad approach is proposed, with architecture understood within its social, economic and cultural contexts.

Guided by the question ‘how did Wheeler and Sproson respond to the idea of architectural modernity in post-war Scotland’, several possible directions emerge, and we expect the student to mould the project in discussion with the supervisors to suit their interests:

  1. What influenced the work of Anthony Wheeler and Wheeler & Sproson as it evolved from the 1950s onwards?
  2. How does a study of the work of Wheeler and Sproson allow a better understanding of the operation of a medium-sized architect’s practice? The thesis could use the records of the practice to consider how it actually operated & collaborated.
  3. How far did Wheeler & Sproson’s post-war housing developments adhere to the planning vision set out by Frank Mears in his 1946 survey of Fife and the 1948 A Regional Plan for Central and South East Scotland? The thesis could examine Wheeler & Sproson’s Fife projects within the architectural, planning and housing context.
  4. What part did Wheeler & Sproson play in the demolition, preservation and re-use of historic buildings in its redevelopment of Fife’s historic burghs in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and to what extent was this work novel? The thesis could evaluate the impact of the architect in decision-making. The thesis would also establish the structures and processes of redevelopment, and establish key players and shifting patterns.
  5. How did Wheeler and Sproson approach major institutional commissions? For example, at St Andrews University and Edinburgh College of Art.

The project is supervised at the University of Edinburgh by Professor Miles Glendinning and Dr Alistair Fair, and at Historic Environment Scotland by Diane Watters and Neil Gregory. Regular meetings with the supervisors will be arranged, but we expect the successful applicant to be able and willing to work largely independently in the archive. Sustained periods of self-directed archive work (and more general reading) will be required, as will some travel.

Overall, the research will reshape understanding of the post-war architectural history of Scotland and Britain, a subject of considerable current interest on the part of academics and the public and to whose lively debates the student will be able to make a fundamental contribution.

The stipend covers three years’ work on the PhD (or the equivalent pro rata if part time), with an additional six months supported by a specific Student Development Fund. This time will be used to develop additional skills, including the curation of an exhibition. There will also be opportunities for training and skills development with other CDP holders from across Scotland and the UK. This is an ideal opportunity for a well-qualified candidate to develop their skills and knowledge.

Funding details

The award is funded by the AHRC through the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium. The award begins in September 2016 and covers fees and stipend at the Research Council UK level (RCUK). There will be additional support towards travel and research related costs from Historic Environment Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.

The value of the stipend for 2016/17 is yet to be confirmed. However, for full-time study in 2016/17 it is likely to be £14,296 plus £550 additional stipend payment for Collaborative Doctoral Students. Historic Environment Scotland will also make available £1000 for research and training costs.

The Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme

The Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme supports and delivers high quality doctoral research and training. As part of this scheme, National Museums Scotland (NMS), National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) have come together to form the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC). The SCHC brings together three of Scotland’s National Collections plus its National Heritage Agency, all of whom are internationally respected for their work in researching, documenting and promoting understanding of material culture.

The partner institutions

Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) forms part of Edinburgh College of Art within the University of Edinburgh. ESALA has long-established and well-regarded research and teaching specialisms in Architectural History and Architectural Conservation. Particular areas of expertise include the architecture of Scotland, and twentieth-century architecture. We benefit from our location in the city of Edinburgh, an architecturally rich environment in itself and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we enjoy close links with other organisations involved in the historic built environment.

Historic Environment Scotland was formed in 2015 by the merger of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. It is the new lead public body for the country’s historic environment. It is responsible for more than 300 properties of national importance, and for internationally significant collections including over five million drawings, photographs, negatives and manuscripts, along with 20 million aerial images of locations across the world.


You must:

  • Have a first or upper-second class Honours degree or equivalent.
  • Have completed a Masters-level qualification, or expect to complete this by the time you start your PhD study.
  • Be a resident of the UK or European Economic Area (EEA).
  • In general, full studentships are available to students who are settled in the UK and have been ordinarily resident for a period of at least three years before the start of postgraduate studies. Fees-only awards are generally available to EU nationals resident in the EEA. International applicants are normally not eligible to apply for this studentship.

Prior experience and key attributes


  • First or upper-second class Honours degree or equivalent, and a Masters-level degree in History, Architectural History, History of Art, or a related discipline, at a high level
  • Demonstrable ability to work independently and willingness to commit to the sustained archival investigation that the project requires
  • A real and demonstrable interest in post-war architecture
  • Willingness to engage with a broad range of audiences to disseminate the work
  • Willingness to travel to archives and sites beyond Edinburgh


  • Knowledge of the architectural history of twentieth-century Scotland and Britain
  • Knowledge and understanding of the broader cultural and social histories of twentieth-century Scotland and Britain
  • Experience of independent archive research

How to apply

Applications should be submitted through the University of Edinburgh’s online postgraduate application system.

Applications should be accompanied by:

  • A statement of application, which summarises your previous relevant experience and your reasons for wanting to undertake a PhD.
  • A ‘proposal’ which explains your interest in this specific subject. Although we do not expect you to be able at this stage to set out formally how you propose to tackle the research in detail, we would like to know about the aspects of this project that might interest you in general terms. You should also outline your broader interest in Scottish and British architecture between the 1940s and 1980s, and how you feel that this study could add to or re-shape the existing literature on these subjects.
  • Copies of original transcripts and degree certificates.
  • A CV.
  • Two references.

IMPORTANT: please also send a brief covering letter stating that you wish to be considered for the CDP ‘Wheeler and Sproson Architects: Modernity, Urbanity and Conservation’, and noting that you have made an online application, to the ECA Postgraduate Office: ecaresearchdegrees@ed.ac.uk

Further information

If you have any queries about the application process, please contact ecaresearchdegrees@ed.ac.uk

Informal enquiries about the project can be made to Dr Alistair Fair at Alistair.Fair@ed.ac.uk


  • Closing date for applications: Monday 18 April 2016
  • Shortlisted candidates will be asked to send a short sample of their writing at the end of April.
  • Interviews are provisionally scheduled for Thursday 12 May 2016
  • Start date: 12 September 2016