Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection (1950s)
Nikolaus Pevsner studied the history of art and became a lecturer at Göttingen University from 1929-33. He developed an interest in English art and architecture, writing 'Pioneers of the Modern Movement' (1936) which stressed the British contribution to architecture. Pevsner came to England in 1935 to take up a research post at Birmingham University.
In 1939, as an enemy alien, Pevsner was interred in the large camp at Huyton, Lancashire, only being released after his friends petitioned the British government. He then worked alongside Hubert de Cronin Hastings (himself a Royal Gold Medallist) as co-editor of the Architectural Review, having already submitted articles for publication in the magazine. Pevsner left the Architectural Review in 1946.
Pevsner met Allen Lane in 1941 and developed the blueprint for the Buildings of England series with the publishing house Penguin. The series was inspired by a similar series edited by Georg Dehio in Germany, but the difference was that Pevsner would only catalogue every building that mattered (to him) in England from the post war period onwards. Pevsner set himself rules for the catalogue, eg. 'all churches prior to c. 1830 are included, but after that date only selected ones'.
The first volume with Pevsner at the helm was Cornwall (published 1951) with his last volume being Staffordshire (1974). Pevsner visited most of the buildings himself and achieved publication of all of the English counties in his lifetime.
The Buildings of England series still continues today, updated and published by Yale University Press as Pevsner Architectural Guides.
Although Pevsner's work only covered England, the series has also spawned the Buildings of Wales, Buildings of Scotland and Buildings of Ireland.
As well as the Buildings of England series, Pevsner also published the 'An Outline of European Architecture' (1943), 'Pelican History of Art' (from 1947), and the 'Penguin Dictionary of Architecture' (1966).
The Royal Gold Medal panel said: 'By honouring Pevsner at a time when the Institute is in danger of becoming an unduly professional body at least we are capable of affirming the value and meaning of architecture instead of simply seeing it in terms of cash and cost'.