Prof Barbara Penner
Professor of Architectural Humanities
The Bartlett School of Architecture
Faculty of the Built Environment
- Joined UCL
- 22nd Sep 1997
Barbara Penner's research covers a wide range of subjects: nineteenth-century commercial architecture (hotels and department stores); twentieth-century tourist destinations (honeymoon resorts); domestic spaces and technologies (bathrooms and kitchens); and urban infrastructure and its representations. Her primary research question is how such seemingly everyday spaces and building types enable the formation of particular social and cultural identities and promote social inclusion or its opposite. Her work is consistently informed by an interest in feminism. It is also interdisciplinary in nature, typically drawing on work from anthropology, literary theory, history, technology studies and cultural studies.
She is author of Bathroom (Reaktion, 2013; Awarded RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding University-Located Research 2014) and Newlyweds on Tour: Honeymooning in Nineteenth-Century America (UPNE, 2009). She is co-editor of Sexuality and Gender at Home: Experience, Politics, Transgression (Bloomsbury, 2017), Forty Ways to Think about Architecture (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2014), Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Temple University Press, 2009) and Gender Space Architecture (Routledge, 2000). In addition, she has published twenty book chapters and over thirty journal articles. Her research is further disseminated through international, national, academic and public lectures, commissioned essays, and teaching.
Barbara has received numerous fellowships and awards, including from the Winterthur Museum and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History. She is currently Principal Investigator for a Humanities in the European Research Area Joint Research Programme grant (www.heranet.info). Entitled Printing the Past: Architecture, Print Culture, and Uses of the Past in Modern Europe [PriArc], this is an international research project led by the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), involving partners from digital media lab Factum Arte, Ghent University, Leiden University, Musée d’Orsay, and the Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal Institute of British Architects. PriArc examines the relationship between architecture, print culture, and uses of the past in modern Europe and beyond. (For further information, please see http://priarc.aho.no)
Barbara's current research project, “Subject to Design: Social Science in the Home”, studies how social scientific research into user behaviour has shaped Anglo-American homes in the 20th and 21st centuries. By exploring disciplines from home economics to ergonomics to ethnographic consumer studies, it suggests that this research has shaped the design of home spaces, domestic technologies, and home lives in pervasive but rarely acknowledged ways. Barbara was awarded the 2014-5 Cornell Dean’s Fellowship to conduct archival research into one important case study, the celebrated Cornell Kitchen (1950-53), an exemplary ergonomic project that brought together a multidisciplinary team of home engineers, architects, and social scientists to redesign kitchen space. This research will be published in Technology & Culture (January 2018).
In her teaching, Barbara Penner aims to expand students' understanding of the social, cultural and material context of the built environment's production. Since 1997, she has taught a range of modules that have served undergraduate (Years 2 and 3) and postgraduate students (Masters and PhD). It is primarily through this work, that she has brought her own research interests to bear, running courses on subjects as varied as Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, detective fiction as an urban genre, domestic design and identity, and the ‘expanded field’ of architecture in the 1960s. Since 2005, she has also taught the Masters module, "Representation of Cities," with Iain Borden and Ben Campkin, and has twice coordinated the Masters module "Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Architecture," taught mainly through site visits in London.
Between 2002 and 2015, Barbara was the Programme Director of BSc (Hons) Architectural & Interdisciplinary Studies, an innovative multi-disciplinary programme that provides students with a non-accredited route through the Bartlett School of Architecture. The programme, now directed by Elizabeth Dow, has proved to be very successful and its graduates have gone on to further studies and/or careers in law, management, journalism, architectural history and the fine arts. For this programme, Barbara established two new courses devoted to the skills and methods of architectural research and she currently still teaches Architectural Research II, which enables students to collaborate to produce a group project based on a specific research agenda: in 2014-5, students produced an exhibition, "Bartlett, Banham and Beyond," devoted to the critic – and former Bartlett Professor – Reyner Banham; in 2015-6, students explored the theme of feminism and architecture, organizing roundtables and producing a zine, Asterism; and in 2016-7, students studied questions of difference in architecture and designed and set up a website, Equium.
Between 2005 and 2017, Barbara served as Director of the PhD Architectural History & Theory programme. She is currently the first supervisor to six PhD students who are researching topics from infrastructure in 19th century Britain to electrification and modern city life. She has seen eight PhD students through to completion, who are now teaching in universities in the America, Colombia, and the UK. Barbara has examined eighteen PhDs at UCL, the University of London, and other universities in the UK, Europe, South Africa and North America.
She welcomes inquiries from potential graduate students, especially around the following subjects and themes:
Urban infrastructures (Networks, Modernization, Narratives of Progress)
User-centered design (Diversity, Aging, Access, Inclusion, Dignity)
Social scientific research in architecture (Ergonomics, Ethnography, Ethics)
Spaces of consumption (Tourism, Leisure, Sentiment, Gender, Popular Culture)
Domestic spaces (Technologies, Labour, Representation)
Architectural Writing (History, Criticism, Reyner Banham)
- Birkbeck College
- PhD, Humanities | 2003
- University College London
- MSc, Architectural History | 1996
- McGill University
- BA, English Literature and History of Art | 1994
Barbara Penner is Professor in the Architectural Humanities at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. She is presently the BSA's Director of Research and teaches on the MA Architectural History and on BSc Architectural & Interdisciplinary Studies (AIS).
Barbara is author of Bathroom (Reaktion, 2013; Awarded RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding University-Located Research 2014) and Newlyweds on Tour: Honeymooning in Nineteenth-Century America (UPNE, 2009). She is co-editor of Sexuality and Gender at Home: Experience, Politics, Transgression (Bloomsbury, 2017), Forty Ways to Think about Architecture (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2014), Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Temple University Press, 2009) and Gender Space Architecture (Routledge, 2000). She has most recently contributed essays to Technology & Culture (2018), The Journal of Architecture (2014), Globalization in Practice (Oxford University Press, 2014), ArchiPop (Berg, 2014), and Use Matters: an alternative history of architecture (2013). She regularly writes for architectural magazines such as Architectural Review, Cabinet, Icon and Places.
Barbara has been invited to give lectures in institutions across the UK, Japan, and North America, including at Aoyama Gakuin University, Cornell University, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. She is often invited to write and comment on bathrooms and sanitation issues and has been interviewed in news outlets such as CNN and The Globe and Mail and featured in radio programmes on the ABC, BBC, and CBC, e.g. "Thinking Allowed: The Great Indoors,” BBC Radio4 (19 February 2014). As part of the UCLoo team (with Prof. Sarah Bell and Dr. Tse Hui-Teh from the Bartlett), Barbara coordinated a two-week long UCLoo Festival in 2013 that sought to highlight sanitation issues globally. Events included a film festival, loo tours, make-a-thon, exhibition, and a comedy night. Its centerpiece was a working ecological public toilet with a .2 litre flush in the UCL Main Quadrangle. The event was covered in BBC Radio4’s “Costing the Earth: A Toilet for the 21st Century” (12 Feb. 2014) and was named UCL Communication and Culture’s Best Public Event of 2013.
Barbara serves as a member of the editorial boards of The Journal of Architecture (2011-) and Interiors: Architecture, Design, Culture (2009-) and as a contributing editor to Places (https://placesjournal.org). As a member of the Education Sub-Committee of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (2011-14), she helped to establish its Annual Graduate Student Forum. She remains on the Judging Panel for the SAHGB's Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Prize. She regularly peer reviews for journals and funding bodies and serves as a member of scientific committees. Barbara participates in numerous research groups, most recently Future Archive, sponsored by The Graham Foundation in association with Places, to select and make key architectural writings available digitally; and the Dis/Ordinary Architecture Project, an AHRC-funded network of artists and educators committed to creatively exploring interrelationships between dis/abled and diverse bodies and built space. She is presently External Examiner at Dublin Institute of Technology.