Prof Iain Borden

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Iain Borden is Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, where he is also Vice-Dean for Communications for the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, having previously served as Director and Head of the Bartlett School of Architecture from 2001-09.

An Honorary Fellow of the RIBA, I have guided architectural education and research internationally, helping to write the QAA Benchmarking Statement for Architecture (2006-10), acting as a Strategic Reviewer for the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2011-12), evaluating refereed articles and book proposals for over 40 journals and publishers, as well as assessing research funding applications in countries such as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Singapore, USA and the UK.

As an architectural historian and urban commentator, my work has explored various interdisciplinary intersections of architectural history, cultural history, critical theory and urbanism. I am particularly interested in the ways in which urban and architectural spaces are experienced and perceived by people after the moment at which these spaces have been first constructed - that is, the various ways in which buildings and cities constantly change and evolve depending on their different uses and lives over many years and through different media. My inaugural professional lecture – “Machines of Possibility” (2004) – describing this approach is available for download.

My wide-ranging research interests within architecture and urban culture are described below. Most recently I have been working on a history of automobile driving, urban experience and cinema, now being followed by new work on an experiential history of the buildings and spaces of London. I operate extensively in the public arena, making numerous media appearances on the radio and television worldwide, while also curating and participating in exhibitions, debates, symposia, workshops and other academic and public events worldwide.

Research Summary

Research by Iain Borden explores how architecture and cities are experienced and re-used by members of the public.

Architecture and cities are crucial to how people live and society operates. Without homes, shops and parks, without offices, workplaces and airports, our world would grind to a halt. As a historian and theorist of architecture and urban culture, I am interested not just in how our cities function but also how they are designed, what they mean to people and how they are experienced.

The role of architects and urban designers plays a big part in this, and high quality of design is a crucial ingredient in what people expect from architecture. What do buildings look like? How do they satisfy people’s needs? How do they speak of deeper cultural issues today and in the past?

Ultimately, architecture is assessed by those who use it on an everyday basis, and much of my research work has consequently been about how people who are not trained in architecture perceive and experience the cities in which they live. To do this, I have studied a diverse range of subjects and places, ranging from the urban spaces of Italian renaissance piazzas to the use of surveillance cameras in shopping malls, from architectural modernism to recent postmodernism, from issues of gender and ethnicity in city spaces to the way architecture is represented in cinema and photography. In particular, I have completed an in-depth study of the urban practice of skateboarding, looking at how skateboarders have adopted modern cities as their own pleasure-ground, creating a concrete wonderland with its own subculture of clothes, attitudes and actions. I have also extended this area of investigation into the world of automobile driving, looking at films and movies to explore how people’s experiences of the city from the car changes their engagement with, and understanding of, architecture and urban space. Recent work explores how specific places and buildings in London can be encountered through different kinds of social engagement, such as knowledge, memory and risk-taking.

Authored and co-edited publications include:

•      Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes (2013).
•      Bartlett Designs: Speculating With Architecture (2009).
•      The Dissertation: an Architecture Student’s Handbook (revised edition, 2005; Chinese edition 2010).
•      Transculturation: Cities, Spaces and Architectures in Latin America (2005).
•      Bartlett Works (2004).
•      The City Cultures Reader, (revised edition, 2003).
•      Manual: the Architecture and Office of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (2003).
•      Skateboarding Space and the City: Architecture and the Body (2001; Japanese edition 2006).
•      The Unknown City: Contesting Architecture and Social Space (2001).
•      The New Babylonians, special profile n.151 of Architectural Design (AD), v.71 n.3, (June 2001).
•      InterSections: Architectural Histories and Critical Theories (2000).
•      Gender Space Architecture: an Interdisciplinary Introduction (1999).
•      Strangely Familiar: Narratives of Architecture in the City (1996).
  •      Architecture and the Sites of History: Interpretations of Buildings and Cities (1995).

    A selection of articles are available for download at

  • Research outputs

    Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes 2013 BORDEN IM
    A World Apart/Un monde à part 2012 Borden IM
    Universal Tea Machine 2012 Borden IM,Smout M,Allen L,Youkhana S,Pearson L
    Beyond Space: the Ideas of Henri Lefebvre in Relation to Architecture and Cities 2012 Borden IM
    Desire and Adventure: Youth and Automobile Driving in The Italian Job and other Movies 2012 BORDEN IM
    Thinking About Architecture 2011 BORDEN I
    Foreword 2011 BORDEN I
    Foreword 2011 BORDEN I
    The Limehouse Link: the Architectural and Cultural History of a Monumental Road Tunnel in London's Docklands 2011 BORDEN IM
    Chinatown, Automobile Driving and the Unknowable City 2011 BORDEN I
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    Research activities

    Bartlett Designs: Speculating with Architecture
    Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities & Landscapes
    Everyday Constructions: Global Manifestations of Postmodern Urban Space
    Imaging Architecture
    Manual: the Architecture and Office of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
    Playtime: Tativille and Paris
    Skateboarding, Space and the City
    Thinking About Architecture