Job title: Head of Subject Area - History of Art, Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures

Tel: +44 (0)131 651 4321


Current PhD students

Silvia Ojeda García

Ana Pardo Garcia

PhD Supervision Topics

  • Modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism

Richard Williams is the head of History of Art and teaches contemporary cities.  In the history of art, the topic of cities has become increasingly mainstream, in terms of students' career choices as well as the curriculum. Richard says: 'When I started teaching urban theory to art history students in 2000, it felt quite risky, quite far from the mainstream. Now, my students know a huge amount about cities, and they know their careers are going to be played out in them. Cities are now a perfectly natural interest.' Richard's work on cities has ranged from Brazil, the United States and Spain as well as the UK. His research questions have remained constant, however: why do cities look the way they do? How is contemporary urban theory represented in the actual city spaces we inhabit? His work draws on the social sciences and psychology as well as art history, and he is interested in practice-based research as well as more conventional approaches.

Richard arrived in Edinburgh in 2000, having just published a study of the 1960s New York art scene, After Modern Sculpture, groundbreaking in the emphasis it gave to the spaces of exhibition. His next book, The Anxious City (2004) explored the spectacular changes wrought on the British city from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Including detailed studies of the British Museum’s Great Court, the redevelopment of Liverpool and Prince Charles’s interventions in the architectural debate, it has since become a standard work in British urban studies. Brazil: Modern Architectures in History (2009) followed, an account of Brazil’s use of modernist aesthetics to shape political and social agendas. Sex and Buildings (2013) asks how architecture has responded to changes in sexual mores in the past century. Rooted in contemporary debates about sex, the book analyses the influence of historic thinkers including Freud and R. D. Laing, and architects from Rudolf Schindler to Mies van der Rohe. The book was very widely reviewed during 2013. Richard’s work-in-progress includes a new book for Reaktion on the history of the 'creative city’ concept. He is also the editor of a major new book series, The Visual Culture of Cities, for I. B. Tauris: the first volumes in the series, including Richard's own book on Silicon Valley, will start to appear in 2018.

Richard has a busy media profile. His thinking about Edinburgh's contemporary development has been covered by BBC Radio 4, The Guardian, The Herald, Foreign Policy, as well as many times by the local Edinburgh media. He is the editor-in-chief of the web magazine The New Metropolitan, a lively web magazine covering urban citizenship and activism worldwide. He is a regular contributor to the art and design press too, as well as Times Higher Education, where he comments on urban topics. And you can always find him on Twitter.

Modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism