Dr Alistair Fair is a historian who specialises in twentieth-century architecture in Britain, drawing on original archive sources to place architecture in context and to understand how buildings were conceived, constructed, understood, and used.
Alistair studied at Oxford (BA (Hons)), the Courtauld Institute of Art (MA), and Cambridge (Ph.D.). Following his Ph.D., he worked in architectural conservation in London before returning to Cambridge as a Research Associate and then a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow. After more than a decade in England, he moved back to Scotland in autumn 2013 to join the University of Edinburgh as a Chancellor’s Fellow, becoming a Lecturer in Architectural History in October 2016.
Alistair's publications engage not only with academic audiences but also the wider public. They include articles in leading refereed journals, an edited book on twentieth-century theatres in a variety of international contexts ('Setting the Scene: Perspectives on Twentieth-Century Theatre Architecture', Ashgate, 2015), and a co-written book on theatre architecture in both contemporary and historical contexts (‘Geometry and Atmosphere: Theatre Buildings from Vision to Reality’, Ashgate, 2011). Alistair has contributed to documentary films on theatres and hospitals, intended to disseminate (alongside conventional academic outputs) the findings of major collaborative research projects in an accessible and engaging fashion. He has also written on aspects of contemporary architecture, including the work of Stanton Williams Architects, and he was co-author of CABE/Arts Council England’s client guidance. Other publications include book reviews for journals including the Journal of Architecture and Architectural History, as well as short texts on a range of subjects from the architect Peter Moro to the Kenwood Chef mixer.
Presentations have been given in a range of academic settings internationally, including the Society of Architectural Historians (USA), the Society of Architectural Historians (Australia/New Zealand), the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the European Architectural History Network, and, closer to home, at the University of Oxford.
Alistair's teaching is directly informed by his research. He contributes to all levels of the MA (Hons) in Architectural History and to the MSc in Architectural History and Theory, offering specialist options for both courses on aspects of British architecture in the twentieth century. These options mix conventional lectures with interactive seminars and visits to key buildings and archives. Alistair also contributes to the MSc in Architectural Conservation, and is a guest lecturer for two of the University of Cambridge's MSt courses: in Building History, and Interdisciplinary Design in the Built Environment.
Ph.D. supervisees: Alistair welcomes enquiries from potential Ph.D. students interested in working on topics in twentieth-century British architectural/urban/planning history. Current students are (as first supervisor):
Katherine Breen, 2016- (Co-supervised with Diane Watters of Historic Environment Scotland; 2nd supervisor Prof Miles Glendinning): Wheeler and Sproson Architects (funded by AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership)
(As second supervisor):
Sarah Hendriks, 2015- (1st supervisor Prof Ian Campbell): The concert hall in eighteenth-century Britain (funded by University of Edinburgh, Principal's Career Development Award)
Public engagement includes invited talks on the post-war history of Bradford Cathedral (October 2013), 1960s university architecture (Rewley House, Oxford, May 2014), the work of Peter Moro (November 2015), and the Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead (also November 2015). Alistair is also a member of the Board of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) and regularly engages with the work of the Twentieth-Century Society, and Docomomo Scotland, while a recent grant (2016-17) from Edinburgh Research and Innovation will support a programme of Knowledge Exchange in collaboration with The Theatres Trust.
Alistair's research examines the architectural history of post-1945 Scotland and Britain. For more than a decade he has been researching the design of theatre buildings in this period. He is currently completing a substantial book on the new theatres built across Britain between the 1950s and the 1980s, to be published by Oxford University Press, and is beginning work on a shorter study of contemporary theatre design (the latter contracted to Lund Humphries). This work has been funded by the AHRC (2004-7), the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (2014), and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2014-15).
Other current projects include a study of British hospital design between the 1950s and the 1970s (funded by the Wellcome Trust, 2016-17), and an exploration of British architecture and planning in the 1980s (funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016-17). Alistair has also written about the architecture of the post-war university and the history of environmental design.