National Life Stories: Architects' Lives

The Floral Hall in the Royal Opera House

National Life Stories' Architects' Lives was established in 1995 to document the life and work of British architects and their associates over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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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 20th 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. More recent recordings document the impact of the Millennium and public funding on civic buildings, and the global impact of British architectural firms. 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.

The project has so far interviewed, amongst others: Geoffrey Jellicoe, Jane Drew, Ralph Erskine, Sir Denys Lasdun, Marco Goldschmied, Gabi Epstein, James Gowan, Ed Jones, Jeremy Dixon, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, Sir Terry Farrell and Sir Michael Hopkins.

Many interviews from Architects' Lives can be accessed via the British Library Sounds website in the Architecture collection. To explore the collection in detail, please search the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. The catalogue reference used for all the recordings in the project is C467. A list of interviewees is also available.

Further information about Architects’ Lives can be found within National Life Stories Annual Reports, in particular the 2014-2015 report which focussed on Architects’ Lives and its sister project Artists’ Lives.

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.

Architects' Lives Advisory Committee

  • Rab Bennetts
  • Catherine Croft
  • Elain Harwood
  • Peter Murray
  • Alan Powers
  • Barbara Weiss
  • Ellis Woodman

Partners and sponsors

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

Collection guides

Oral histories of architecture and landscape design

Interviews charting the history of architectural practice in 20th-century Britain

Oral histories of museum and library professionals

Archivists, librarians and curators describe their working lives

Projects

National Life Stories

A unique and invaluable record of people’s lives in Britain today

National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship

This award of £5,000 allows the Goodison Fellow a period of sustained engagement with the oral history collections in order to share the results in public domain.

All projects

Subjects

Sound

Sound and video recordings from all over the world