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Professor James W. P. Campbell MA DipArch PhD FSA RIBA IHBC

Building Histories 1 Building Histories 2 Building Histories 3

What is Building History?

Building history has formed a major research theme in the Architecture Department over the last 12 years. Building history is interested in tracing the development of buildings through the ages. It takes as its starting point the premise that no building is ever completely finished: buildings are continually altered throughout their lives. The understanding of buildings thus requires an understanding of how to recognise these changes through stylistic differences and through changes in types of construction. It combines archaeological techniques with in-depth documentary research. Traditional architectural history has looked a lot at style, design and at the motivations of patrons and architects, but has given less attention to the methods used to construct buildings. Building History thus combines the traditional methods of architectural history, with archaeological recording and an in-depth exploration of the history of construction. It looks at the methods used to construct buildings in the past and the way these affect the building form. The history of building construction includes (but is not limited to) the study of building regulations; building structures and the history of the structural mechanics; manuals and publishing on building construction; contracts and building accounts; supply and use of materials; the economics of building contracting; the development of construction firms; guilds and craftsmen; and the influence between countries of different building techniques and methods of procurement.

Professor James W.P. Campbell is a leading expert in this field. He is Chairman of the Construction History Society. His doctoral work looked at the development of structural carpentry in seventeenth century England and was followed by an AHRC research grant that looked at the development of brickwork in the same period. In 2006 he helped Cambridge host the Second International Congress on Construction History and he has been on the scientific panel of that and all subsequent congresses and he now hosts the annual Construction History Society Conferences in Queens’ College, Cambridge. Over the years the Building Studies Research group has produced great number of studies in this field and has a growing number of PhD students.

History and Development of Building Construction

Construction History is an important part of Building History. Architectural history has been widely studied but the history of building construction is only just beginning to be explored. Building technologies have tended to vary widely from place to place and methods of technology transfer from one culture to another are often unclear. Moreover, building technology is often overlooked. The study of the history of building construction involves the use of documents to understand the social background and economics of the building process. It also involves archaeological recording of surviving building fabric wherever possible. At the moment building construction is often not well enough understood to allow dating by construction method; one of the primary aims of this research is to make this possible.


A key part of the research involves the recording of existing structures and their interpretation. The MSt in Building History was set up by Professor Campbell and Frank Salmon working in collaboration with then English Heritage  (now Heritage England) to teach these skills. Many of the PhD students come through this course.