Leach, Neil

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Leach, Neil




Office—University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, England.


University of Bath, Bath, England, professor of architectural theory; Architectural Association, London, England, faculty member.


(Editor) Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory, Routledge (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor) Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999.

The Anaesthetics of Architecture, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

Millennium Culture, Ellipsis (London, England), 1999.

(Editor) The Hieroglyphics of Space: Reading and Experiencing the Modern Metropolis, Routledge (London, England), 2001.

(Editor) Designing for a Digital World, Wiley-Academic (Chichester, West Sussex, England), 2002.

(Editor, with David Turnbull and Chris Williams) Digital Tectonics, Wiley-Academy (Hoboken, NJ), 2004.

Camouflage, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.


In The Anaesthetics of Architecture, Neil Leach argues that aestheticized design—which focuses on imagery—has had an anesthetizing effect on contemporary society, rendering it incapable of appreciating fully the architectural works with which it is confronted. In the view of Michael Sorkin, writing in the Architectural Review, the book covers ‘well-explored territory’ and aims at ‘easy targets’ without provoking controversy. Paul Glassman, reviewing the book for Library Journal, noted that it includes discussion of such theorists as Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, and Guy Debord, and sharply criticizes postmodernist theories. In concluding, Glassman deemed The Anaesthetics of Architecture a highly specialized work of interest to scholars and practitioners in the field.

As editor of Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe, Leach includes essays from a range of theorists, including Frederic Jameson, Helene Cixous, and Andrew Benjamin, as well as essays by architects Daniel Libeskind and Bernard Tschumi. The contributions, as reviewer Calum Storrie noted in Building Design, are of high caliber but do not really address the idea of revolution, as suggested by the book's title. In Storrie's view, ‘the question of the importance of history, rather than revolution, lies at the heart of this book.’ Included are essays that discuss the architecture that emerged after Russia's October Revolution in 1917; the construction of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz and the rebuilding of the Reichstag; the significance of the Berlin Wall; and the rebuilding schemes of Romanian leader Ceasescu, whose monumental ‘People's House’ in Bucharest became the second largest administrative building in the world. Though Storrie considered some of the material in Architecture and Revolution heavy, he found the book ‘full of insight’ and cited Leach's piece on the Berlin Wall as ‘strangely poetic."

Leach also edited Designing for a Digital World, which David Littlefield, in a Building Design review of Digital Tectonics, described as a ‘bold attempt to put computer-driven design techniques into a philosophical context.’ The reviewer felt that Digital Tectonics, which Leach edited with David Turnbull and Chris Williams, was better focused and more challenging than the previous title. Digital Tectonics focuses on the idea that mathematics and digital imaging techniques can be used on architecture to create new structural forms. According to Littlefield, these are ‘alluring’ ideas that could inspire significant new developments in architectural design.

Leach's Camouflage attracted significant critical attention. As described by Leonardo Web site contributor Wilfred Niels Arnold, the book suggests that ‘we are much influenced by architecture and creative design, and that we all seek to adapt to our surroundings.’ Leach, as Arnold explained, argues ‘fitting in,’ ‘feeling at home,’ and ‘finding our place’ contribute to a ‘widespread desire for ‘camouflage.’’ Arnold questioned this thesis, calling Leach's approach in the book ‘idiosyncratic.’ Hsuan L. Hsu, reviewing the book on the Minnesota Review Web site, noted that ‘Leach's thesis about cultural camouflage as a way to ‘overcome feelings of alienation’ raises questions about the forms and causes of alienation and about who experiences them.’ As Hsu pointed out, Camouflage aims to ‘reveal another side to aesthetics, and argues that it has a positive social role to play in helping us to relate to the world,’ but the critic did not find Leach's exposition of this point entirely successful. ‘Leach's crucial lesson is that camouflage and its ambiguities can productively mediate between subjects and larger social formations,’ concluded Hsu, ‘but it will be up to his readers to decide whether the arts stand ‘over and above’ the critique of ideology, or whether and to what extent the two domains work in tandem."

Leach, a professor of architectural theory at the University of Bath in England, also teaches at London's Architectural Association. His research focuses on the interface among architectural theory, European philosophy, and cultural theory.



Afterimage, May, 2000, review of The Anaesthetics of Architecture, p. 17.

Architects' Journal, May 1, 1997, Adrian Forty, review of Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory, p. 44; July 22, 1999, Jeremy Melvin, review of The Anaesthetics of Architecture, p. 48.

Architectural Review, October, 1999, Michael Sorkin, review of The Anaesthetics of Architecture, p. 96; March, 2003, Colin Davies, review of Designing for a Digital World, p. 96.

Art History, March, 1999, Richard J. Williams, review of Rethinking Architecture, p. 131.

British Journal of Aesthetics, January, 1999, Clive Cazeaux, review of Rethinking Architecture, p. 72; October, 2000, Clive Cazeaux, review of The Anaesthetics of Architecture, p. 498.

Building Design, September 24, 1999, Calum Storrie, ‘Revolting Architecture,’ p. 29; November 7, 2003, David Littlefield, ‘Designs on Digital: The Power of the Computer Can Do Much More Than Speed Up Design, It Can Be the Creator of New Possibilities, Says Theorist Neil Leach in His New Book Digital Tectonics,’ p. 18.

Canadian Architect, May, 2000, review of Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe, p. 44.

Library Journal, May 1, 1999, Paul Glassman, review of The Anaesthetics of Architecture, p. 71.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 1999, review of Architecture and Revolution, p. 141.

Tci, October, 1996, review of Rethinking Architecture, p. 59.

Times Literary Supplement, January 19, 2007, Austin Williams, ‘Is Anyone There?,’ p. 27.


Arch in Form,http://eng.archinform.net/ (November 1, 2007), Neil Leach profile.

Leonardo,http://www.leonardo.info/ (November 1, 2007), Wilfred Niels Arnold, review of Camouflage.

Minnesota Review,http://www.theminnesotareview.org/ (November 1, 2007), Hsuan L. Hsu, ‘Who Wears the Mask?"

University of Michigan, College of Architecture and Urban Planning Web site,http://www.tcaup.umich.edu/ (November 1, 2007), Neil Leach profile.