A legacy in paper and stone: a personal study into the architecture of the British Empire

Image: The Liver Building (left) and Pier Head, Liverpool, built at the height of the British Empire and when the city was one of its principal ports.

This is a personal project I am sharing online as my research progresses.

The research project

My original 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, which began in October 2018, 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 multi-directional and what is its legacy. Research will be carried out primarily by exploring the rich architectural 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. I hope that this website will be able show how it evolves via regular blog posts.

This research is funded by the RIBA Gordon Ricketts Fund.

By Wilson Yau

Latest blog posts about the project:

  • The Imperial Institute lives on in postcards

    July 25, 2022 by

    The Imperial Institute lives on in black and white or colorized images in many thousands of postcards printed and sent during the ‘craze’ for sending and collecting postcards in the early 20th century. As mentioned in my previous post, the Imperial Institute is a building that has physically disappeared and mostly been forgotten, but its… Read more

  • The Imperial Institute: a new focus for research

    February 7, 2022 by

    The Imperial Institute: a brief history As mentioned in my previous post from December 2021, I have decided to focus my attention on the Imperial Institute which used to be in South Kensington, London. First proposed in 1886 and receiving direct support from the then Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), it was… Read more

  • Reading a lot in 2021; a rewrite in 2022

    December 27, 2021 by

    What happened in 2021My reading continues but the writing has slowed down, as since the spring of 2021 the UK came out of lockdown and life became busier again – for a while. Also, by the autumn, I was moving house and working full time. As we head into a resurgence in Covid-19 rates due… Read more

  • 280 hours and my fourth building

    March 8, 2021 by

    I’ve completed an estimated 280 hours of writing and research on this project to date. I use a spreadsheet to log in what I’ve done as a way to make myself accountable – well, accountable to myself primarily. It’s been useful as a way to remind myself I HAVE been working this project, it’s too… Read more

  • December 2020: Two years of research continues

    December 15, 2020 by

    Where I am so farI have now passed the two-year mark of my research and it continues despite having past the original projected time frame and never being able to do the overseas travel that was to inform my research. There is still more for me to explore in this topic and much has happened… Read more

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