Title Building Types and Built Forms
Year 2014
Publisher Matador
PriceHardback £25.00 eBook £11.63
Available to buy from

Building Types and Built Forms

Building Types and Built Forms weaves together two books in alternating chapters: one about the history of building types, the other about their geometry. The first book follows the histories of some common types of building: housing, hospitals, schools, offices and prisons.  Examples are drawn from the 19th and early 20th centuries in France, America and Britain, with the central focus on London. They include the ‘pavilion hospitals’ associated with the name of Florence Nightingale, London Board schools and English Modernist schools of the 1920s and 30s, tall office buildings in Chicago and New York, Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon penitentiary, and ‘radial prisons’ on the model of Cherry Hill and Pentonville.

The second book takes these histories and uses them to mount an argument about how the forms of the buildings are constrained by some of the generic functions of architecture: to provide daylight and ventilation to the interior, to provide access to all rooms, or to allow occupants to see from one part of a building to another for the purposes of supervision, or for watching performances. A new way of thinking about the ‘worlds of geometrical possibility’ created by these constraints is introduced, making use of concepts and tools for the description of form in biology. The forms of many buildings can be catalogued and laid out systematically in ‘morphospaces’ or theoretical spaces of possible forms.

Building types are characterised as populations of institutions-in-buildings, changing over time under the influence of a series of forces including changes in the activities housed and external trends in society and technology. The types come as a result to occupy different positions in, and take different paths through, the worlds of possible built forms. The book contains more than 400 illustrations, many of them specially drawn


‘Philip Steadman’s name ought to be far better known, as that of a virtuoso scholar able to weave the history and theory of architecture together with exactness, ambition and not a whisper of claptrap. This long and austerely titled book is his tour de force. It is not all easy going, but it deserves attention and study…’

‘Is not such a sane, relentlessly disciplined and rational enquiry as Steadman has pursued also just a little bit mad? Perhaps too much should not be asked even of so ambitious a book. At the very least he has provided a magnificent quarry of histories, ideas and, not least, drawings. And to pursue a line of enquiry with such consistency offers superb intellectual stimulus. Perhaps the most valuable overall insight of Building Types and Built Forms is the reminder that the constraints of architecture are as glorious as its freedoms. It takes the kind of nobly puritanical approach to architecture which Martin and March fostered years ago at Cambridge and which Steadman still champions to bring that to the fore.’

Andrew Saint, Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain Newsletter

‘Building Types and Built Forms offers readers a comprehensive framework underpinned by interdisciplinary knowledge. Such a framework allows understanding and exploration of fundamental questions concerning the generation of possible built forms, and how these might change over time according not only to generic formal constraints, but also to changes in the institutions they house and relevant social, political, technological or cultural processes.’

Tania Oramas Dorta, Journal of Space Syntax