Architectural Research: The Influence of the British Empire and its Architects

A personal architectural research project.

The Liver Building (left), Liverpool, built at the height of the British Empire and when Liverpool was one of the principal ports of the empire.

RIBA Gordon Ricketts Fund
The RIBA Gordon Ricketts Fund is awarded every two years and I was lucky enough to be one of three recipients in 2018. It’s a fund to allow former or existing RIBA staff members to engage in personal architectural research. From September 2018 onwards until September 2020, using my award I intend to research the influence of the British Empire and its architects.

The research project
Full research title: “A legacy in paper and stone: How the architecture, culture and urban planning of cities from Liverpool to Shanghai were shaped by the British Empire and its architects”

My research will look at the way the British Empire (1700s – 1950s) was not just a commercial and military operation, but a transformative global network that enabled culture and architectural ideas to spread. It will aim to uncover and understand the influence of the empire and its architects on the architecture, culture and urban planning of its colonies and cities, and assess if this exchange was multidirectional and what is its legacy. Research will be carried out primarily by exploring the rich collections of the RIBA, supplemented by visits to other institutions and via topographical studies.

It’s a fascinating topic – and a large subject to tackle. To manage it, my initial aim will be read widely and then to focus on specific cities, personalities and time periods that interest me or are most relevant to the research title. I expect the title and my thoughts to develop and change significantly over the two-year period. I’d like to share my research and findings somehow, both as I progress and at the project’s conclusion, but in what form is still to be decided and will be guided by what I discover.

Queen’s Tower, Imperial College, London, the only remaining part of the Imperial Institute building that was opened in 1893 by Queen Victoria

All photos by Wilson Yau