Dr Alistair Fair is a historian of architecture in Britain between 1918 and the 1990s, with specialisms in theatre, university, and hospital architecture. He is interested in the relationships between architecture and wider themes in social, urban, and political history. His work therefore locates buildings (both built and unbuilt) in wider contexts, drawing on original archive material and contemporary published accounts. His most recent major publications are Modern Playhouses: an architectural history of Britain's new theatres, 1945-1985 (Oxford University Press, 2018), and Play On: Contemporary Theatre Architecture in Britain (Lund Humphries, 2019).
Alistair studied at Oxford (BA Hons Modern History), the Courtauld Institute of Art (MA), and Cambridge (PhD). He then worked in architectural conservation in London before returning to Cambridge, first as a Research Associate and then a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow. He joined the University of Edinburgh in 2013 as a Chancellor’s Fellow, becoming a Lecturer in Architectural History in 2016. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
Teaching: Dr Alistair Fair
Alistair's teaching is directly informed by his research. He teaches at all levels of the MA (Hons) in Architectural History & Heritage, and the MSc in Architectural History and Theory. His teaching includes contributions to core team-taught survey courses (on topics in history, heritage, and historiography). He originated and teaches specialist research-led option courses on aspects of British architecture in the twentieth century. These elective courses mix conventional lectures with interactive seminars and visits to key buildings and archives. Alistair also contributes to the MSc in Architectural Conservation. Beyond Edinburgh, he is a guest lecturer for the University of Cambridge's MSt in Building History, and is External Examiner for the University of Warwick’s MSc in Theatre Consultancy.
Public engagement has included invited talks on 1960s university architecture (Oxford, May 2014), the work of Peter Moro (November 2015), the Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead (2015 and 2019), Scottish post-war theatre (Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, 2016 and 2017), UK post-war theatre (The Theatres Trust, 2016; C20 Society, 2018), Glasgow's unbuilt cultural centre (Glasgow Doors Open, 2018), Warwickshire modern theatres (Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, 2019), and post-war office design (C20 Society, 2020). A grant (2016-17) from Edinburgh Research and Innovation supported a programme of Knowledge Exchange in collaboration with The Theatres Trust. Alistair is a member of the Casework and Publications committees of the Twentieth Century Society.
In spring 2015, Alistair co-created and has since co-convened the ESALA Architectural History and Theory seminar, offering a regular programme of talks for students, staff and the wider public.
Research: Dr Alistair Fair
Alistair's research examines the architectural history of Scotland and Britain in the twentieth century. His work is shaped by two key ideas. First, that architectural modernism was a broad-based project in which clients, designers, and consultants all sought to explore and respond to the idea of modernity itself. Second, that ‘mainstream’ practice is as significant as the kind of avant-garde projects more usually featured in architectural histories. As a historian, Alistair is interested in investigating these ideas using a wide range of documentary and other contemporary evidence, setting architecture in wider contexts.
In 2018, Oxford University Press published Alistair’s book, Modern Playhouses: an architectural history of Britain’s new theatres, 1945-1985. This substantial book - shortlisted for the SAHGB Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion for the best architectural history published in Britain in 2018 - examines the new theatres built across Britain between the 1950s and the 1980s. Many of these theatres were part-funded with public subsidies, and so their conception, design, and reception not only reveals much about debates within the world of theatre, but also sheds important light on themes in British social, urban, and political history. This work was funded by the AHRC (2004-7), the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (2014), the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2014-15), and the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (2017).
Alistair recently completed a further book about contemporary theatre design, Play On, published by Lund Humphries in September 2019. Other current research interests include:
British hospital design between the 1950s and the 1970s (funded by the Wellcome Trust, 2016-17);
The work of the architectural practice Peter Moro & Partners (funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2019, with a book contracted to Liverpool University Press for publication in 2021).
Spaces of community and citizenship in Britain, c. 1919-79 (funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust, 2020-21)
Alistair has also written about the architecture of the post-war university and the history of environmental design, and has co-authored several articles which show how historical understanding can inform the sustainable refurbishment of hospital buildings.
Publications engage not only with academic audiences but also the wider public and industry, internationally. They include, in addition to the books above, articles in leading refereed journals, an edited book on twentieth-century theatres in a variety of international contexts (Setting the Scene, 2015), and a co-written book on theatre architecture in both contemporary and historical contexts (Geometry and Atmosphere, 2011). Alistair has written for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2019), has appeared on television (Phil Spencer's History of Britain in 100 Homes, More4, 2019), has contributed invited chapters to books on topics from new towns to post-war conservation (in a German volume), and regularly writes for international theatre 'industry' publications such as Sightline, Theatres Magazine, and Bühnen Technische Rundschau.
Britain’s Modernist Man of Letters: The Architectural Writings of P. Morton Shand
PhD Supervision Topics
Intending PhD students with a topic in C20th British architectural history are encouraged to make contact with me in advance of making a formal application, in order to discuss their ideas and to see whether I am likely to be available to supervise in the following year.