English architectural history has long been dominated by a taxonomical bias – we happily and perhaps torpidly accept a fluid chronology of isms, idioms, schools, movements, trends and fashions as a sort of universal foundation. Writers of entirely different ambitions and humours – Nikolaus Pevsner and Osbert Lancaster, say – employ kindred methods of classification. Buildings are pigeonholed according to the architectural ideology they are deemed to manifest, according to their methods of construction, according to the materials they use, according to their tics and regional mannerisms and, above all, according to the styles they adopt.
The very title The Building of England would appear to be a dig at Pevsner’s Buildings of England series, the greatest of architectural guides, the aestheticism and rigour of which Simon Thurley abjures in favour of a glove-compartment populism that explains buildings in terms of extra-architectural forces. In this analysis