Lecture Series: Katie Lloyd Thomas, Newcastle University

Medieval manuscript, with the title 'Chimneys' visible at the start.

Instructing Architecture: how writing organises building

Wednesday 29th November 2023 1pm, Reilly Room

This is a Hybrid lecture which can be watched live on Zoom if you cannot join us, click here to register

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Sketch of building instructions and cross-sections.Synopsis: Architectural drawings have been extensively exhibited, published and discussed. But much less has been said about specifications - the written instructions for building which predate drawings and have changed much more significantly through history. In this talk I ask what we can learn from the fact that these written instructions take so many different forms, and how we could use them in more knowing, even inventive ways.

I focus on two key shifts – from simply ‘naming’ materials to describing building processes in detail which happens at the end of the 18th century, and the emergence in the 20th century of performance specifications or describing materials by how they act. Expect exotic names for timber, recipes for mixing mortars, questions about skill and building workers, performance engineered glass, guns and bomb threats, Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings and possibly some poetry.


Katie Lloyd Thomas is Professor of Theory and History of Architecture at Newcastle University and a founder member of the feminist collective taking place www.takingplace.org.uk. Her research is concerned with materiality and technology, and their intersections with architectural concepts, practice and design, and with feminist practice and theory. She is author of Building Materials: Material theory and the architectural specification (Bloomsbury, 2021). She edited Material Matters (Routledge, 2007) and with Tilo Amhoff and Nick Beech Industries of Architecture (Routledge Critiques, 2015). As PI (2020-2024) on the joint Brazil/UK project Translating Ferro / Transforming Knowledges of Architecture, Design and Labour for the New Field of Production Studies, https://www.tf-tk.com she debates and explores the cross-cultural potential of the work of the Brazilian architect, artist and theorist Sérgio Ferro for understanding art, architecture and design through the lens of labour and production.