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M. J. Wells

MPhil work

Architectural models and the professional practice of the architect, 1834–1916

This research project will explore how architects thought about, made, commissioned, and used models during the nineteenth century. Particular focus will be given to the relationship between the production and use of architectural models and the development of the professional identity of ‘The Architect’ in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain. The collection of models held by the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) will be the core focus of research. The temporal boundaries of the project are established by the history of models within these two institutions: 1834 marks the founding of the RIBA, whilst 1916 is the year in which the itinerant collections of the Architectural Museum were reabsorbed into the V&A before being dispersed and deaccessioned.

The attitude of architects towards models in the nineteenth century has been neglected in the study of architectural and building history. Instead historians have focused on other forms of architectural production including drawing, writing (lectures, treatises, histories, specifications), and building. Any analysis as there has been of model collections, including that of the V&A, has concentrated on the history of acquisitions and the individuals involved. The circumstances of model production and the use of models by architects in education, design, and construction have been ignored. Despite this gap in the secondary literature, the reconstruction in 2015 of the Model Room within Sir John Soane’s Museum suggests that both scholars and the public are beginning to recognise the value of the nineteenth-century model as a source for architectural history.

The methodological approach to the research will combine object-based study with investigation of archival material held at the V&A, RIBA, and Architectural Association.  Many of the remaining models held at the V&A and RIBA have not been subjected to in-depth academic analysis. Research will begin with an assessment of the surviving models and an enumeration of those no longer in the collections. It will then establish and analyse the archival sources relating to the models. Research relevant to the models will also be incorporated into the V&A and RIBA cataloguing systems to provide enhanced information for researchers and the general public.

During the second and third years of research, other collections of models and relevant primary material held by Sir John Soane’s Museum, National Trust, and the Royal Academy will be examined in order to broaden the number and types of model under examination and to provide comparative material for the models in the V&A and RIBA collections. The wide variety of material from key public and private collections – combined with evidence from print culture within and without historic architectural communities – will help to develop a nuanced understanding of the role and use of the model in nineteenth-century architectural culture.


  • M. J. Wells
  • MPhil


    School of Arts & Humanities


    History of Design, 2015–

  • M. J. Wells is an architect and historian. Currently based in the V&A/RCA History of Design programme and supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award, his research looks at the way architects thought about and used models during the nineteenth century.

    Following architectural training in Liverpool and London, he worked in the offices of Patrick Lynch, and, later, Eric Parry on a number of London-based and international projects. In 2014 he was awarded a Masters degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art for work on Cinquecento drawings of the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. Recently his writing has been published in both academic journals (Architectural History, JSAH, San Rocco, and Journal of Art Historiography) and the architectural press (Architecture Today, and Building Design).

    Since 2015 he has taught both a design studio and courses on architectural history in the postgraduate and undergraduate architecture programmes at Kingston School of Art. Previous academic appointments have included teaching positions at Liverpool, Nottingham, the Cass, and Central St Martins. His research interests include the history of architectural representation, the use of language and rhetoric in architectural practice, and the exhibition of architecture in the modern period. 

  • Degrees

  • BA Architecture, University of Liverpool, 2010; DipArch, London Metropolitan University, 2013; MA History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 2014; Postgraduate Diploma Professional Practice, University of Westminster, London, 2015
  • Experience

  • Architectural assistant, Lynch Architects, 2010–11; University teacher, University of Liverpool, 2013–14; Architect, Eric Parry Architects, 2014–15; Lecturer, Kingston University, 2015–present
  • Publications

  • ‘False Evidence: The Production of Drawings on behalf of Bramante in the 20th Century’, San Rocco (Vol. 11, Autumn 2015) 93-100; ‘The practice of history: the Smithsons, Colin St John Wilson, and the writing of architectural history’, Journal of Art Historiography (Vol. 14, June 2016); ‘The Royal Academy Exhibition of 1847’, in M. Hallett, S. Turner and J. Feather, eds. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 1769-2018, Paul Mellon Centre / Royal Academy Online Chronicle and Database.; ‘Relations and Reflections to the Eye and Understanding: Architectural Models and the Rebuilding of the Royal Exchange, 1839 – 1844.’ Architectural History (Vol. 60, 2017)