The Bartlett School of Planning


Richard Barras

Richard Barras is an urban economist who studied Mechanical Sciences and Computer Science at the University of Cambridge and Economics at the University of London.

He undertook research on the economics of property markets at the Centre for Environmental Studies and on the impact of information technology on service industries at The Technical Change Centre. In 1996 he was awarded a Doctorate by University of Cambridge for his published work on commercial property cycles.

He was appointed Visiting Research Fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex in 1987, and Visiting Industrial Professor in the Department of Real Estate and Planning at the University of Reading in 1998. He was elected a Fellow of the RSA in 1997. Between 1999 and 2002 he was a Trustee of the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment. From 2001 to 2010 he acted as Property Advisor to the UK’s Coal Pension Funds.

He is one of the founding partners of Property Market Analysis, which is now the largest independent property market consultancy in Europe. PMA provides market information, forecasts and consultancy services on commercial property markets to investing institutions, banks and development companies worldwide. The practice started by concentrating on markets in the UK, then expanded to cover the most important markets across Europe, and most recently key markets in North America and Asia.

Research outputs

Richard Barras has published numerous papers in refereed journals on topics covering land and property markets, planning methods and models, and information technology and service industries. His pioneering papers on the adoption of IT in services have made an important contribution to the development of a theory of innovation applicable to the post-industrial economy.

His book entitled Building Cycles: Growth and Instability was published by Wiley-Blackwell in September 2009. Its central argument concerns the unique nature of building investment. Acting simultaneously as a driver of growth, a catalyst for urbanization and a store of wealth, it is the source of the most volatile cyclical fluctuations in an economy. The result is a legacy of successive vintages of building stock, each of which reflects the economic, social and cultural conditions of its era. This perspective leads to a historical analysis of the long-term role of building investment in economic growth and urban development.

Research activities

In 2016 Palgrave Macmillan published his two volume study ‘A Wealth of Buildings’, on which he has been working for the past five years. The book explores how the great buildings of England bear witness to a thousand years of the nation’s history. The argument is developed using six case studies: Norman castles; Gothic cathedrals; Tudor palaces; Georgian country houses; Victorian civic buildings and Modern office towers.

The central proposition is that in every age investment in iconic buildings reaches a climax when the prevailing mode of production is operating most effectively, surplus wealth is most plentiful, and the dominant class rules supreme. During such periods of stability and prosperity, the demand for new buildings is strong, structural and stylistic innovations abound, and there is fierce competition to build for lasting fame. Each such climax produces a unique vintage of hegemonic buildings that are monuments to the wealth and power of those who ruled their world.

Richard is further developing the concept of hegemonic building. He has published a paper entitled ‘Hegemonic building and the paradox of over-investment in the Central London office market’ in City 23(4-5). This now forms part of the final chapter of his latest book, just published by Palgrave, entitled ‘Monumental London: from Roman Colony to Global City’. The book discusses the history of monumental building in London in terms of the city's evolving political economy through each of its seven ages from the Roman to the Modern.