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David Watkin (historian)

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Subject: Quinlan Terry, David Watkin, English architecture writers, Gothic secular and domestic architecture, Howard Colvin
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David Watkin (historian)

David John Watkin, MA PhD LittD Hon FRIBA FSA (born 1941) is a British architectural historian. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and Professor Emeritus of History of Architecture in the Department of History of Art at the University of Cambridge. He has also taught at the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture.[1]

David Watkin is an Honorary Fellow of the Historic Buildings Council and its successor bodies in English Heritage from 1980-1995.

Classicism vs Modernism

Watkin's main research interest has been neoclassical architecture, particularly from the 18th century to the present day, and has published widely on that topic. He has also published on general topics including A History of Western Architecture (4th ed. 2005) and English Architecture: A Concise History (2nd ed. 2001), as well as more specialised monographs on architects Thomas Hope, Sir John Soane, James Stuart, C. R. Cockerell and Dr. T J Eckleburg

Watkin first came to wide international attention, however, with his book Morality and Architecture: The Development of a Theme in Architectural History and Theory from the Gothic Revival to the Modern Movement (1977), re-published in expanded form as Morality and Architecture Revisited (2001). The basic premise of his argument is that the language with which modernist architecture is described and defended is rooted in the false notion of the Zeitgeist or “the spirit of the age”, as put forward by German Idealist philosopher Friedrich Hegel, so that any opposition to modernist architecture – and here he has in mind the revival of classical and traditional architecture, which he has championed in his writings - is condemned as “old-fashioned”, irrelevant, anti-social, and even immoral.

In terms of Zeitgeist architecture, he traces its moralistic attitude back to architects Pugin, Viollet-le-Duc and Le Corbusier, among others – including their supporters within history such as Nikolaus Pevsner, who claimed that their chosen style had to be truthful and rational, reflecting society's needs. Watkin also sees the pedigree of a distorting modernist architectural history emerging from Hegel, and that modern art and architectural history began in the nineteenth century as a by-product of history and the philosophy of culture in Germany and the rapid growth of Marxist sociology.

Among the ‘contemporary’ architects Watkin has championed are John Simpson and Quinlan Terry, as well as theorist Leon Krier. In his book on Terry, Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry (2006) Watkin is forthright: “The modernism with which Quinlan Terry has had to battle is, like the Taliban, a puritanical religion.”


  • David Watkin, The Practice of Classical Architecture: The Architecture of Quinlan and Francis Terry, 2005-2015. Rizzoli, New York, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8478-4490-6.
  • David Watkin, The Roman Forum, Profile Books, London, 2009.
  • David Watkin, Carl Laubin: The Poetry of Art And Architecture. Philip Wilson Publishers, London, 2007.
  • David Watkin, Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry. Rizzoli, New York, 2006.
  • Christopher Hartop, Diana Scarisbrick, Charles Truman, David Watkin, and Matthew Winterbottom, Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell & Bridge. [2]John Adamson], Cambridge, 2006.
  • David Watkin, A History of Western Architecture. Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2005.
  • David Watkin, The Architect King: George III and the Culture of the Enlightenment. Royal Collection, London. 2004.
  • David Watkin and Robin Middleton, Architecture of the Nineteenth Century. Phaidon Inc Ltd, London, 2003.
  • David Watkin, Morality and Architecture Revisited, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2001.
  • David Watkin, English Architecture: A Concise History, WW Norton and Co Inc, New York, 2001.
  • David Watkin (Ed). Sir John Soane: The Royal Academy Lectures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000.
  • David Watkin (Ed), Sir John Soane: Enlightenment Thought and the Royal Academy Lectures (Cambridge Studies in the History of Architecture) Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • David Watkin, The Royal Interiors of Regency England. Rizzoli, New York, 1985.
  • David Watkin, Morality and Architecture: The Development of a Theme in Architectural History and Theory from the Gothic Revival to the Modern Movement. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, (1984/original 1977).
  • David Watkin, The English Vision. John Murray, London, 1982.
  • David Watkin, Athenian Stuart: Pioneer of the Greek Revival. Harper Collins, New York, 1982.
  • David Watkin, The Rise of Architectural History, Eastview Editions, London, Reprint edition, 1980.
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