Job title: Reader in Architectural History
Role: Programme Director - MA (Hons) Architectural History & Heritage
Office address: Minto 3.53 / also working from home
Contact time: Please e-mail to arrange a meeting (on campus / online)
Research outputs: Dr Alistair Fair on Edinburgh Research Explorer
Alistair Fair MA (Oxon) MA PhD FRHistS
Dr Alistair Fair is a Reader in Architectural History. He is a historian of architecture in Britain between 1918 and the 1990s who is interested in the relationships between architecture and wider themes in social, urban, and political history. Alistair has particular interests and expertise in the history of theatres, hospitals, universities and new towns, on all of which he has published. His most recent major publications are: Modern Playhouses: an Architectural History of Britain's New Theatres, 1945-1985 (Oxford University Press, 2018, with a 2020 paperback); Play On: Contemporary Theatre Architecture in Britain (Lund Humphries, 2019); and Peter Moro and Partners (Liverpool University Press, 2021).
Having been interested in architecture, town planning, and street lighting design (!) from an early age, Alistair studied Modern History before specialising in Architectural History. Post-PhD he worked in architectural conservation in London before spending four years at the University of Cambridge as a Research Associate and then a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow. He joined the University of Edinburgh in 2013, initially as Chancellor's Fellow and Lecturer, becoming a Reader in 2020. Alistair is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
Alistair's working / contact hours are generally Mon-Fri 8.30am-5.30pm
Teaching: Dr Alistair Fair
Alistair teaches at all levels of the MA (Hons) in Architectural History & Heritage, and the MSc in Architectural History and Theory, including 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 regular guest lecturer for the University of Cambridge's MSt in Building History, and from 2016-20 was External Examiner for the University of Warwick’s MSc in Theatre Consultancy.
Alistair supervises the research of several PhD students. Their work is examining: the architectural writing of P. Morton Shand, c. 1920-50; NHS hospital architecture in Scotland, 1948-98; the Scottish Office and Scotland's new towns; Scottish architecture after modernism, 1975-2000; and meganstructures in late C20th Britain. Several have AHRC funding. Recent theses supervised to successful completion include a history of the work of the Scottish practice of Wheeler and Sproson, and the work of Doxiadis in Islamabad.
Recent public engagement has included invited talks on UK post-war theatre (The Theatres Trust, 2016 & 2022; C20 Society, 2018; Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, 2020), Glasgow's unbuilt cultural centre (Glasgow Doors Open, 2018), Dundee Repertory Theatre (2023), post-war office design (C20 Society, 2020), the Royal Festival Hall (C20 Society, 2021), 1980s public architecture (C20 Society, 2023), and Scotland's new towns (Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, 2022). 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.
Alistair co-created the ESALA Architectural History and Theory seminar in spring 2015, and co-convened the series until summer 2020, offering a fortnightly programme of talks for students, staff and the public.
Research: Dr Alistair Fair
Alistair's research examines the architectural history of Scotland, England and Wales 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.
Alistair has particular expertise in:
- the history of theatre architecture in twentieth-century Britain. This work has led to three sole-authored books, an edited collection, a co-authored book, and several articles/essays (some invited). In particular, Alistair's book Modern Playhouses: an Architectural History of Britain’s New Theatres, 1945-1985 (Oxford, 2018; reissued in paperback in 2020) is the first architectural history of Britain's post-war theatre-building boom, exploring some 70 of these buildings and their wider contexts. The book was shortlisted for the 2019 SAHGB Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion for the best architectural history published in Britain in 2018, and the 2019 Theatre Book Award. Alistair subsequently completed a further substantial book about contemporary theatre design, Play On, published by Lund Humphries in September 2019, and a book about an architectural practice known for their theatres, but whose other work was also significant (Peter Moro and Partners, Liverpool University Press, 2021).
- Post-war new towns. Alistair is currently Co-Investigator on a major Leverhulme Trust-funded project (2021-4) examining the social and architectural histories of Scotland's new towns, for which he has worked in particular on the earliest (East Kilbride) and the last (Stonehouse, which was abandoned). This work has led to various publications and presentations, and will in 2024-5 result in a co-authored book, contracted to Bloomsbury. There is more information on the project website, linked below, Alistair is also researching the late new towns in England and Wales, including Milton Keynes.
- The relationships between ideas of community and the built environment in Britain, c. 1919-79 (funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust, 2020-22, and resulting in articles on topics including privacy, and the 'centre' as a form of planning, the latter co-written with Dr Elizabeth Darling)
- Scottish architecture in the twentieth century, including work on the Scottish Special Housing Association, and architecture and planning in post-war Edinburgh.
Alistair has also written about post-war universities, hospitals, and the history of environmental design, and has co-authored several innovative articles which show how historical understanding can fundamentally inform the sustainable refurbishment of hospital buildings.
Publications engage not only with academic audiences but also the wider public and industry, internationally. Full details may be found on the Edinburgh Research Explorer link below.
Current PhD students
PhD Supervision Topics
I supervise topics in modern architectural/urban history: in particular, projects which explore Scotland, England and Wales in the C20th. The PhD students whose work I am currently lead-supervising are exploring the following subjects: NHS hospital architecture in Scotland, 1948-98; the architectural writing of P. Morton Shand, c. 1920-50; the role of the Scottish Office with regard to Scotland's post-war new towns; Scottish architecture after modernism, 1975-2000; and megastructures in late C20th Britain.
Potential PhD students interested in working on a topic in the C20th architectural/urban history of Scotland/England/Wales 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. Early contact is recommended, not least if an applicant wishes to apply for AHRC funding: our internal deadline for such applicants is in early December each year.