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National Life Stories: Architects' Lives

National Life Stories' Architects' Lives project documents the lives of British architects and those in associated professions.

The Portland Building, Portsmouth University School of Architecture [35KB]

The Portland Building, designed by Sir Colin Stansfield Smith (photo: Kevin Purdy Printing and Photographic Services)

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This on-going project provides a rare opportunity for British architects and those associated with them to talk at length, but in layman's language, about their routes into the profession and the challenges they met there. Amongst the earliest participants were the generation born in the first decades of the twentieth century, whose recordings remind us of the desolate landscape of damaged post-war Britain and the importance of the Festival of Britain in reviving a spirit of renewal. The collection includes testimony from those involved in the government's new schools and public housing schemes as well as those taking on private client commissions. Together, the recordings form a tapestry that enables the listener to hear varying perspectives of the dominant figures and of the experience of working in firms of differing sizes and complexity. Topics include theoretical approaches, the impact of new building materials and the effect that the era of the computer has made on the design process.

Whilst Erno Goldfinger is not represented in Architects' Lives himself, NLS, in partnership with the National Trust at Willow Road, has been able to add a series of life stories with people close to him. Extracts were published as a CD in 2004 by NLS and the National Trust entitled Passionate Rationalism: Recollections of Ernö Goldfinger. For more information please contact the curatorial team at nls@bl.uk.

Many interviews from Architects' Lives are accessible via the British Library Sounds website in the Architecture collection.  An up-to-date listing of all the interviews recorded for Architects' Lives can be found by searching the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue with the collection reference number C467.

Advisory Committee

  • Colin Amery
  • Catherine Croft
  • Elain Harwood
  • Alan Powers
  • Andrew Saint

Partners and sponsors

  • Lutyens Trust
  • Monument Trust
  • Stockholm Architecture Museum
  • Rayne Foundation
  • The National Trust
  • Kleinwort
  • The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

Accessing the collection

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)
E oralhistory@bl.uk

PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.