Holly Smith

I am a historian of modern Britain. I specialise in urban history, with a focus on the architecture and politics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At the centre of my research is an attempt to demonstrate that the built environment should be treated as more than a backdrop to history; its materiality, aesthetics, and governance have provided the meat of political argument. I use cities as an archive through which we can interrogate broader shifts around political language, social mores, personal subjectivities, and digital space in modern Britain. 

I did my BA and MPhil at the University of Cambridge. At UCL, my PhD thesis offers a new political history of high-rise housing and its reception in post-war Britain. This research has been funded by the Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities. I am transforming my PhD research into a book, which is under contract with Verso.  

I won Oxford University Press’s Duncan Tanner Prize 2022, for my article which offers the first full, archivally-based history of the Ronan Point disaster of 1968. I also won the Hawksmoor Medal 2022, awarded by the Society for Architectural Historians of Great Britain, for my article which revises mythologies about the ‘streets in the sky’ design at the Park Hill estate in Sheffield. 

At UCL, I teach undergraduates and postgraduates from the History Department and the Bartlett School of Architecture. I am interested in contemporary housing justice and the policy-oriented applications of historical research. I am a Civic Scholar at the Institute for Community Studies, a leading think-tank specialising in progressive and participatory social research to tackle structural inequality. I also work with Tower Blocks UK, a campaign and research group for high-rise housing safety.


Supervisor: Dr Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite and Dr Rebecca Jennings
Working title: ‘Up in the Air: High-Rise Housing and the Public in Post-War Britain’
Expected completion date: 2024

Key Publications

Papers and presentations

I have given papers at a range of academic conferences and seminars. These include the North American Conference on British Studies (2023); the SAHGB’s Visions of Welfare Conference (2023); the Twentieth Century Society’s Architecture Slam (2023); the Society for the Promotion of Urban Discussion (2022); UCL’s Grenfell Tower Enquiry Seminar Series (2020); and the IHR’s Architectural History Seminar (2020).   

I have worked as a guest lecturer at the London School of Architecture and Oxford Brookes. I have also delivered research and training to industry professionals at the Local Government Association, the Chartered Institute of Housing, and the National Fire Chiefs Council.


  • Making History, HIST0008 (2021/2022; 2022/2023; 2023/2024).
  • Writing Lab (2022/2023; 2023/2024). 
  • History Summer School in partnership with the Sutton Trust (2020/2021; 2021/2022; 2022/2023).