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HomePerson of TodayJames Stevens Curl

James Stevens Curl


Architectural historian James Stevens Curl has been a full-time academic for almost 40 years and has published a number of books on architects and architectural history, including The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, which he co-wrote with Susan Wilson. He is also a skilled artist and designer, practising in watercolour, pencil and ink.

1. What was your biggest career break?
Probably running European Architectural Heritage Year 1975 for Scotland from 1973, with being appointed to an academic post a close second from 1978.

2. Have you had a notable mentor – and if so what was it about them that was so inspiring?
A.H. Buck for his tutorials in Latin and the use of mellifluous English; and Arthur Korn for his humanity and courtesy.

3. What one piece of advice would you give to the 20-year-old you?
Don’t waste time, read a lot, live each day as though it might be the last, and travel as much as possible to look at beautiful things.

4. What qualities to do you look for in new recruits?
Literacy, ability to work hard, draw, and think, appropriate dress (NOT jeans etc.), fluency of speech, good manners, and proper use of time.

5. Who do you admire and why?
WA Mozart for his exquisite taste; Karl Friedrich Schinkel for his work-ethic, intelligence, and beautiful architecture; Norman Douglas for his literary style; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for his wide-ranging interests, beautiful lyric poetry, and his novella, Die Wahlverwandtschaften.

6. What does the future of your industry look like?
Appalling: Western Civilisation is going under: it is like it was in the Roman Empire around AD 376 …

7. If you weren’t in the role you are in today, what would you have been?
Probably an Oxbridge Don or a High-Church clergyman provided I had a beautiful church in my care and a fine old Rectory or Vicarage in which to live.

8. What is your biggest extravagance?
Buying books and enjoying fine Claret.

9. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and why? (you can invite three people – they must be alive)
My favourite people are all dead: I would prefer the company of an agreeable dog.

10. What do you do to relax away from work?
Listening to music; playing the piano; drinking good English beer (preferably South of the Trent) with chums in a seemly pub with plenty of old wood, small rooms, no plastic, no yobs, and no canned ‘music’; lunching or dining with clubbable company in decent surroundings, such as my Club; reading; writing poetry; drawing; going to the Opera provided the director is not some narcissistic madman with pornographic tastes (i.e. most of them nowadays, so going to the Opera is now rarely enjoyable); driving in rolling landscapes on small roads with not too much traffic on them; hunting (substituting politically-correct humbugs and all politicians for the fox); visiting churches and studying funerary monuments; going to exhibitions of subjects that interest me;

11. If you could change one thing about Britain today, what would it be?
Reduce the population to around 9 million.

12. What would your last meal be? (please choose a starter, a main course and a pudding)
Cold globe artichoke with vinaigrette; one dozen escargots in garlic butter (with fresh warm baguette); twice-baked cheese soufflé in cheese sauce; one bottle Château Batailley 2006; one very fine, large, Havana cigar, and a glass of very fine old single malt whisky from the Western Isles (or Irish Pot Still if Single Malt not available).

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