The Bartlett School of Architecture

Prof Barbara Penner

Prof Barbara Penner

Professor of Architectural Humanities

The Bartlett School of Architecture

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
25th Sep 2000

Research summary

Barbara Penner's research covers a 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, including housing. Her primary research question is how 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 interdisciplinary and intersectional, typically drawing on work from anthropology, literary theory, history, STS and cultural studies.

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). Among others, she is co-editor of Sexuality and Gender at Home: Experience, Politics, Transgression (2017), Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (2009) and Gender Space Architecture (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 a variety of fellowships and awards, including from The Leverhulme Trust, The Clark Art Institute, Cornell University, the Winterthur Museum and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History. She has recently concluded a major Humanities in the European Research Area Joint Research Programme grant, Printing the Past: Architecture, Print Culture, and Uses of the Past in Modern Europe, led by the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, with partners from digital media lab Factum Arte, Ghent University, Leiden University, Musée d’Orsay, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. (http://priarc.aho.no) The outcome of the UCL team’s research, the edited book Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects will be out soon (Reaktion, 2021).

Barbara has also made several contributions to the Future Archive, sponsored by The Graham Foundation in association with Places, to select and make key architectural writings available digitally. Her first selection was a piece by the critic and historian Reyner Banham; the second was an essay by the houser, Catherine Bauer. Partially on the basis of this last contribution, in 2020, University of Minnesota Press reprinted Bauer’s long out-of-print classic Modern Housing (1934) for which Barbara wrote a foreword. This is also the subject of a short film produced as part of the “In Search of Europe” series by UCL European Institute.

Barbara's current book 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 was published as an article in Technology & Culture (January 2018).

Teaching summary

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 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, landscape and theatre design and the fine arts. For this programme, Barbara established two new courses devoted to the skills and methods of architectural research, Architectural Research I and II; the latter enables students to collaborate to produce a group project based on a different research theme each year, from exploring the legacy of the critic (and former Bartlett professor), Reyner Banham to responding to the theme of decolonization and architecture. For a sample of this group work, please see the feminist zine, Asterism: https://issuu.com/asterism2/docs/asterism_zine_no1

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 the spaces of progressive education to electrification and modern city life. She has seen ten PhD students through to completion, who are now teaching in universities in America, Colombia, and the UK.  Barbara has examined over twenty PhDs at UCL, the University of London, and other universities in the UK, Europe, South Africa and North America. She is also presently mentoring a Marie Curie Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Fellow, Dr. Iulia Statica, whose research subject is ““Gender, Infrastructure, and the Production of Domesticity in the (Post)Communist City.”

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, Social Justice)

Social scientific research in architecture (Ergonomics, Ethnography, Ethics)

Spaces of consumption (Tourism, Sentiment, Gender, Popular Culture)

Houses, Housing and Domesticity (Technologies, Labour, Representation)


Birkbeck College
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2003
University College London
Other higher degree, Master of Science | 1996
McGill University
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts | 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, teaches on the MA Architectural History, and supervises numerous PhD students. She was recently awarded a Leverhulme Major Fellowship which she will take up between January 2021 and 2023.

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 a recent special issue of the Journal of Architecture (“The Foundations of Architectural Research”, 2019), 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 Food: Bigger than the Plate (2019), Technology & Culture (2018),  Globalization in Practice (2014), ArchiPop (2014), and Use Matters: an alternative history of architecture (2013). She is a frequent contributor to Places (https://placesjournal.org) and to architectural magazines such as Architectural Review and Harvard Design Magazine.

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 comment on bathrooms and sanitation issues and has been interviewed in news outlets such as The Guardian 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 regularly peer reviews for journals and funding bodies, and serves as a member of numerous scientific committees and advisory boards. She is currently a member of the “Insurgent Domesticities” research group at the Center for the Study of Social Difference, Columbia University (2020-23); and a collaborator of 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 External Examiner at Dublin Institute of Technology.