skip to content

Department of Architecture


Amy Boyington Cohort 1 (2011 -2013)

"Having read Law as an undergraduate and with professional experience in the publishing world I was unsure how to change my career path to suit my passion for heritage and historic buildings.  The MSt was excellent in enabling me to do this.  Not only did it furnish me with the skills to interpret historic fabric, it also paved the way for me to work within the heritage sector, particularly with country houses.  Both during and after the course I was able to gain valuable curatorial experience at Holkham Hall, Goodwood House and Woburn Abbey.  Following this, I decided to undertake a PhD at Cambridge researching female architectural patronage in eighteenth-century Britain, for which the MSt had prepared me perfectly.  This research was fully funded by the School of Arts and Humanities. The academic rigour of the MSt, together with the fascinating site visits and the impressive range of speakers has ensured that I am now well equipped to pursue a career within either the academic or the heritage world."

Bev Kerr Cohort 1 (2011 -2013)

"The MSt appealed to me for a number of reasons: I was attracted by the wide range of topics and the chance of a six-month placement, and I was also really keen to develop my practical skills in building surveying and observation. The course did not disappoint! I see it as one of the best investments I have ever made in my career. It was hard work, but always thought-provoking and stimulating. The placement with Historic England was a fantastic experience in which I was lucky enough to work with some of the country’s topmost building experts.

I believe the MSt in Building History gave me the tools and the confidence essential in my present position as a Heritage Consultant within a leading architectural conservation practice. As an added bonus, the course also introduced me to my future husband!"

Wendy Andrews – Cohort 1 (2011 – 2013)

"In 2011 I was working as a communications consultant for cultural organisations including Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund and was on the National Trust’s East of England advisory board, all of which kept me pretty busy. But then an article in Country Life about a new Masters course in building history at Cambridge caught my eye – and eventually led to a new career as an academic researcher, wallpaper historian and consultant. I have not looked back!

The MSt was invaluable in providing an introduction to historical context, practical skills and technical language across the spectrum of building history, much of which was completely new to me. I loved every minute of the course, from being immersed in the industrial history of the world's first water-powered cotton spinning mill, built by Arkwright at Cromford, Derbyshire, to exploring the vertiginous space above Wren’s dome of St Paul’s. To my surprise, early in the course I realised that I had rekindled a passion for academic study and decided I would aim to carry on to a PhD. For my MSt placement I worked with the National Trust researching wallpapers hung during the mid-19th century re-Gothicisation of Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, and this led to my doctoral research, funded through the AHRC Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership, which analysed the significance of wallpaper and decorating records for the London firm Cowtan & Sons, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Since completing the PhD in 2017, I have undertaken research, lecturing and consultancy projects, including analysis for Historic Royal Palaces of wallpaper records for Kensington Palace, Hampton Court and Hillsborough Castle and a report for Historic England on decorating records for the use of 19th and early 20th century fibrous plasterwork. I am a part-time Research Associate at Queens’ College, assisting Dr James Campbell with preparation for his new book on ‘Water & Civilisation’ and part-time Editorial Assistant for the journal Construction History. I also volunteer with the David Parr House project in Cambridge, ‘Mapping Mr Leach’, as part of a team transcribing the master decorator Frederick Leach’s day books. I have lectured on historic wallpapers at the V&A, the Wallpaper History Society, the Institute of Conservation, English Heritage, the Construction History Society and the International Congress on Construction History in Chicago. None of this would have been possible without the foundation of the academically rigorous MSt and the many opportunities it opened up."

Luke Jacob Cohort 2 (2012 – 2014)

"I joined the University of Cambridge MSt Building History course in 2012, following a BA degree in History of Art.  I had studied modules on architectural history as an undergraduate, but had little experience of interpreting historic fabric, conducting archival research or recording buildings when I started the MSt. The course covered a vast array of subjects all engagingly taught by specialist lecturers as part of an excellent first-year programme that combined lectures with site visits and practical sessions on survey techniques and research skills. Through independent study modules and the professional placement in the second year, I was able to specialise in public and commercial buildings of the twentieth century, particularly inter-war pubs, which were the subject of my dissertation and the main focus of my placement as a research assistant on a national project on the building type conducted by Historic England. The MSt gave me a strong grounding in British architectural history and equipped me to assess historic fabric and use specialist research methods to unlock and interpret the histories of buildings of various types and dates. The experience and knowledge gained on the course is central to my current work as a Listing Adviser at Historic England, as well as previous research-focused roles at Historic England and the V&A Museum."

Anna Shelley Cohort 3 (2013 – 2015)

"Prior to starting the Building History course in 2013, I had worked in several roles within the Heritage sector – in grants administration with the HLF, as a project assistant for a £5 million museum development project with the Bath Preservation Trust, and then within the Planning and Conservation department of English Heritage (as it was) – all of which were absolutely instrumental in understanding the role and operation of these organisations, amongst many other transferrable skills. However, I struggled consistently to move beyond purely administrative positions, despite increasing experience in the sector and a developing interest in building conservation.

The Building History course changed this almost immediately, largely because the skills that are the unique focus of the course are so desirable for a wide range of roles within the sector. I remained in my position at EH while I finished the first year of residential courses, but I was offered a paid heritage consultancy placement with Purcell’s Cambridge office in the second year after which I was offered a full time position in their London office. Since 2014 I have worked in heritage consultancy, during which period I have had the opportunity to work on some amazing buildings – including (but certainly not limited to) national museums and institutions, historic stately homes, and grand London townhouses. In October I joined the Victorian Society as a Conservation Advisor, where the skills I learnt at Cambridge continue to stand me in good stead. In short, I cannot recommend the course highly enough for the unique skills set and understanding of historic buildings that it offers students, as well as for the highly personal quality of the teaching from Adam and many of the other course contributors. Without doubt, it has transformed my professional career."

Matt Cooper – Cohort 3 (2013 – 2015)

"Studying for the MSt felt like a natural choice for me - I already had a degree in History and the History of Art, and I had been working with listed church buildings for a few years. I enjoyed learning new skills such as making measured drawings of buildings (I can’t draw!) and learning about architectural photography from some talented professionals was a real privilege. The residential sessions were always interesting and provided brilliant lectures and site visits. The highlight of the coursework for me was writing a dissertation on medieval inns. It was extremely challenging but very rewarding.

The breadth and depth of the course content has been a great help to me professionally, and enabled me to start a job with Historic England after the first year of study. I still work for HE and I think some element of the learning I gained through the MSt comes in useful every single day. My abiding memory of the course, however, is one of pure enjoyment, and the opportunity to spend time with some excellent people: the other students, the lecturers, the course leader and administrator. The whole experience was fantastic."

Tansy Collins – Cohort 3 (2013 – 2015)

"Following an undergraduate BSc degree in Archaeological Sciences from Sheffield University (2002), my professional skills developed with a number of years working in the field of commercial archaeology, both on site and within a graphics department.  Moving into the drawn survey of historic buildings and then into building assessment and interpretation, I needed to augment my archaeological knowledge and so began the Building History MSt in 2013.

The course was perfectly suited to my situation. It allowed me to continue working while undertaking my studies and to utilise skills gained during the course every day.  The residential weeks are well-designed.  Lectures were given by experts in every field of building history, and I personally found that lectures on architectural history were a brilliant accompaniment to my archaeological knowledge, all consolidated by visits to put the learning in context. New research skills and opportunities led to the production of a thesis which did justice to an under-researched area of building history that can be utilised directly by building historians working in the field. Since graduating in 2015, I have progressed substantially both within my employment and without. I now lead historic building projects in a commercial archaeological unit, but am also more heavily involved with external groups; I co-organised and led a well-respected national conference on vernacular architecture in Hertfordshire.  Finally, I cannot emphasise enough the amazing network of fellow building historians and experts I have found who are happy to share knowledge and ideas."

Christopher Curtis Cohort 4 (2014 – 2016)

"Prior to taking the MSt in Building History I had studied for a history degree and worked as a Tour Guide. The two years I spent on the course are particularly memorable as an enjoyable, if intense, part of my life. The course is well rounded, and while covering architectural history, it also taught practical skills such as the analysis and interpretation of standing buildings. The programme of teaching is excellent and includes a wide range of lecturers who are experts in their field, and each subject is backed up by a field trip.

The course has been an invaluable help to my career. The second year work placement gave me important experience in the work-place, and the skills I gained on the course enabled me to work as a historic buildings archaeologist and now as an architectural investigator for Historic England."

Helen Warren – Cohort 4 (2014 – 2016)

"Having always been fascinated by historic buildings, I was keen to expand my knowledge of them partly out of sheer love of learning and partly out of a desire to focus my existing architecture and design career on projects involving the historic environment.  The first year was a great balance of practical training in analysing built fabric and documentary evidence in order to understand a building’s evolution, alongside a series of lectures charting the history of British architecture. The calibre of the course contributors particularly stood out for me; all were not only experts in their field but passionate, approachable and eager to share their knowledge.

Through the course I was able to gain a placement with Purcell Architects and Historic Building Consultants, which in turn opened the door to a wide range of historic buildings projects and opportunities.  I am now a Built Heritage Consultant and a full member of the IHBC, providing heritage advice and advocacy on historic building projects across the country. I would thoroughly recommend the course – it is one of the most interesting, enjoyable and rewarding things I have ever done."

Jana Schuster – Cohort 4 (2014 – 2016)

"I absolutely loved the MSt in Building History; it was the perfect combination of academia and practical learning, and gave me the opportunity to follow my passions. From rigorous academic building research, to learning how to find and use relevant documentary sources, how to analyse building fabric, measure, draw and date a building, understanding the legal side of heritage protection, to writing a narrative of a building’s history for different audiences, the course touches on every aspect of working with old buildings. The wide range of enthusiastic lecturers – often from the professional world – and the many site visits made for truly engaging and interactive learning.

Coming to the MSt immediately after completing my MA in Art History and Ancient History at the University of St Andrews, it was important to me to retain the academic rigour of academia, whilst also developing more vocational skills. For my work placement, I ended up working for 10 months at a country house in Northamptonshire. Writing my dissertation on the architectural history of that country house, I discovered a research topic that I absolutely love, and established a collaboration with the owners of the house, under which I now write my PhD. Between completing the MSt and starting my PhD, I was awarded the Giles Worsley Research Fellowship at the British School at Rome, where I spent three months developing a research project, presented a paper at an ICOMOS heritage conference in Canada, and was sponsored to attend the Royal Collection Studies Course with the Attingham Trust. My supervisor and the course director were invaluable in supporting me throughout all of this, as have been my fellow students and the people lecturing on the course. Attending this course has been one of the best and most formative decisions of my life, both professionally and personally."

Katherine Hardwick – Cohort 5 (2015 – 2017)

"I came to the MSt from an academic background in history, and was one of the younger members of my cohort, progressing to the Masters straight from an undergraduate degree. The variety of ages and backgrounds made for an interesting mix, and reflected the course’s own diverse nature. Unlike traditional art (or architectural) history courses, the MSt blends academic and practical study; personally, I found the art history elements familiar and reassuring ground, though I greatly enjoyed getting hands-on with the buildings, particularly learning how to complete a measured survey as part of the Recording Project. 

This mixture of academic history and practical experience of ‘reading’ historic buildings greatly helped me in my professional role, as I worked for a year with the conservation architects Purcell as a heritage consultant. Familiarity with more vernacular buildings, as well as those of high status, allowed me to work on a variety of projects, from redevelopment of farmhouses and timber-framed buildings, to large-scale conservation programmes at institutions such as the British Library and Newark Castle. 

I continue to keep in touch with many of the people I met through the course, both academically and socially, and have greatly enjoyed the continuing support offered to alumni."

Jessica Jones - Cohort 6 (2016 – 2018)

After working as a chartered surveyor for two mainstream consultancies, I soon realised that heritage-led regeneration projects captured my interest more than undistinguished office blocks. My undergraduate degree had been in History, so I felt that a specialist qualification providing ‘hands on’ exposure to historic buildings would allow me to develop both my professional expertise and academic interests.

I considered several other postgraduate courses: as a self-funded mature student, I wanted to be sure I was making the right choice. The Cambridge MSt stood out from the start. When researching my options, I was particularly impressed by the pastoral support available and the amount of contact time. The teaching blocks of lectures and site visits are intense - the days are long, but absolutely fascinating. The teaching is unparalleled: I feel privileged to have had exposure to so many leading experts from industry and academia.

The course quickly allowed me to re-shape my career path. Shortly after enrolling, I secured a role with a national heritage planning consultancy.  I was promoted twice whilst on the course and the knowledge acquired was invaluable in allowing me to qualify as IHBC. 

After graduating, I moved to the development team at Network Rail, where I am responsible for managing change to some of Britain’s finest railway assets - including Brunel’s Grade I listed Bristol Temple Meads. Every day I draw on the skills acquired on the MSt. The course has changed the way I look at the built environment - how buildings are used, how they have evolved and how the past can drive regeneration. 

I made many like-minded friends on the course and still very much feel part of the ‘Building History family’.  The course has a strong alumni network and it is great to retain an enduring connection to Cambridge. I wish I could study the course all over again!  

Emily Rahimi - Cohort 7 (2017 – 2019)

Enrolling in this course is among the best decisions I ever made.  It provided a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that are critical to any career in heritage, including how to read building fabric, creative ways to analyze and use source material, and how to draw floor plans. It also encourages students to be more observant and curious, which forever changes the way you view the world around you.

I was a slightly unusual MSt student. I am an American who works in communications for the City of New York, and had visited England only a handful of times before the program began.  While I took a few local history courses and read numerous building history books over the years, I had no experience or formal training in the field.  It also had been quite some time since I attended university.

So diving into this course was quite intimidating, and it took a tremendous amount of work and organization to balance everything, but I loved every second of it.  What gave me confidence was knowing I had the support of a brilliant team behind me – renowned historians and preservationists, including the course director, who encouraged me to learn and thoughtfully answered any questions I had.  Past and present students also were a huge academic and social support – a group of architects, archaeologists, heritage consultants, historians, and teachers, who I am now lucky enough to call friends.

Several universities in America offer similar programs, but I decided to enrol at Cambridge because the prestigious, well-organized course allowed me to continue working while I studied.  I also was able to focus two pieces of assessed work, including my dissertation on successive headquarters of the New York Times, on buildings close to home, so I had the opportunity to learn about both English and American construction history and how they overlapped. As a result, I believe I received a more comprehensive, well-rounded education from Cambridge than I could have anywhere else. 

I hope everyone with an interest in history and the built environment will consider this course, no matter what their career, where they are from, or what their age. I could not recommend it enough.

John Willans – Cohort 7 (2017 – 2019)

I came to the Building History MSt following an undergraduate History degree and an archival project to catalogue the historic building drawings of a London theatre. I had been looking for a postgraduate qualification that would allow me to work in built heritage research for some time, but none of the other courses I found could offer the same blend of practical and theoretical teaching that the MSt does. 

The course was everything I hoped it would be and more. The breadth and depth of topics covered is astonishing, and with the guest speakers who lead many of the field trips and lectures often being the leaders in their particular field, you really are learning from the best. I found the mix of classroom-based study and field trips really enjoyable and a great way to reinforce theory with on-site understanding - which is what the course is all about at its heart. The range of assessment also caters to different people's strengths and allows people to attempt things that they may have no prior experience of in a supported way, like carrying out a building recording.   

The resources available to students at Cambridge are unrivalled. The libraries, archives and, indeed, the built environment on your doorstep provides everything that one could ask for to help with independent study, while the support network at both College and Departmental level was incredibly helpful in dealing with any problem, big or small.  

Structuring in a work placement into the course is the perfect way of applying the knowledge and skills you learn on the course in the real world. My cohort ended up in a great variety of placements, and my choice, a built heritage consultancy, were very supportive and able to give me jobs that were very relevant to the skills I had learned on the course. Following completion of the MSt, I returned to the firm and am now working as a built heritage consultant. But the course was not only a way of beginning a new career. It was an incredibly enjoyable two years during which I made many new friends, visited some wonderful historic places and developed a set of skills and knowledge that enriches my personal experience of historic places as much as my professional work.

Stephanie Hammer – Cohort 8  (2018 – 2020)

I enrolled on the MSt after completing an MA in Art History at the University of St Andrews.  I had taken a few architectural history courses during my undergraduate studies, and was looking for a master’s that would combine history and theory with investigations of building fabric. The MSt was exactly what I was looking for, and has provided me with a solid grounding in British architectural history, building analysis and recording, and conservation principles. The work placement during the second year of the course, which I completed with a conservation architect in Cambridge, provided valuable experience and confirmed my decision to pursue a career in the heritage sector. 

One of the MSt’s strengths is the way the first year residentials combine lectures with site visits, making it possible to apply knowledge to buildings in the real world. Throughout the course, there is a consistent emphasis on the importance of combining archival and secondary research with examinations of building fabric to arrive at conclusions. I felt that the coursework, particularly the dissertation and recording project, has been carefully designed to develop these skills simultaneously. I also really valued the fact that the people on the course came from a variety of professional backgrounds – some were recent graduates, like me, while others were seeking to change careers or were already working in the heritage sector and looking to further develop their knowledge. This meant that everyone brought slightly different perspectives, and made for rich discussions. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the MSt, and would highly recommend it.  

Sophie McIlwaine – Cohort 8  (2018 – 2020)

I studied Architecture for my undergraduate degree, and worked for a conservation architect during my Part I experience after graduating.  Although I had enjoyed the history lectures in my BA course and had written a dissertation on St Paul's Cathedral, I was unaware that Building History existed as a discipline until my supervisor suggested this course. Alongside the fascinating lectures, I particularly enjoyed the practical aspects of investigating and measuring buildings, where I was able to apply the skills that I had learnt in CAD and hand drawing to help understand the complex layers of building fabric.

The MSt in Building History has inspired an interest in so many aspects of the subject that I never knew existed. The residential courses were intense but varied, with expert lecturers in every field from medieval stone masonry to twentieth century housing. Almost every day included a visit to a historic building, where we were encouraged to discuss and understand its fabric through practical investigation alongside academic research. 

Our cohort included a broad range of backgrounds, ages and interests, and the atmosphere was friendly and supportive. I maintained a part-time job in Devon between courses, but felt well connected through regular contact with tutors and fellow students (even throughout the Covid-19 lockdown). The course has inspired and informed countless aspects of my life and career; but most importantly, has been an incredibly enjoyable two years of my life.