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 a wider context, drawing on original archive material and contemporary published accounts. His most recent major publication is Modern Playhouses: an architectural history of Britain's new theatres, 1945-1985 (Oxford University Press, 2018).
Alistair studied at Oxford (BA Hons Modern History), the Courtauld Institute of Art (MA History of Art), and Cambridge (Ph.D.). 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.
Alistair's teaching is directly informed by his research. He contributes to all levels of the MA (Hons) in Architectural History & Heritage, and to the MSc in Architectural History and Theory. For both courses he offers specialist options 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. 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 (also November 2015), and Scottish post-war theatre (Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, 2016 and 2017). A recent 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.
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.
In 2018, Oxford University Press published Alistair’s book, Modern Playhouses: an architectural history of Britain’s new theatres, 1945-1985. This substantial book 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 social, urban, and political history. This work has been 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 is now working on a shorter study of contemporary theatre design, Play On (contracted to Lund Humphries). 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.
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, 2015), and a co-written book on theatre architecture in both contemporary and historical contexts (Geometry and Atmosphere, 2011). Other publications include book reviews, as well as short texts on a range of subjects from the architect Peter Moro to the Kenwood Chef mixer.