Sir Banister Flight Fletcher was born on the 15th of February 1866. He was an English architect and historian. Along with his father, who is also named Banister Fletcher, they wrote the textbook, A History of Architecture, referred to as Banister Fletcher.
He joined his father’s practice in 1884 and also studied at the royal academy schools, the architectural association and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
In the year 1889, he became a partner, and upon his father’s death, he took over the practice, which continued to be known as Banister Fletcher and Sons. He worked closely with his father and younger brother Herbert Philips Fletcher. Fletcher was regarded as a minor figure in the modernist movement and in his initial days he preferred to write over design.
In 1919, he was knighted, and in the year 1929, he was elected president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. (RIBA) In 1936, he became master of the worshipful company of carpenters, a position also held by his father.
The first edition of the book was written by his father and was published in the year 1896. Throughout the 20th century, updated versions continued to be published and this book became a standard reference work. In the year 1921, with the 6th edition, there was a major edition, and much of the text was written by Fletcher and his wife.
Over 20 years after his father’s death, his father’s name was dropped, and various drawings were replaced by new ones done by George G Woodward and others.
Shortly before he died in 1953, he produced the 16th edition of the book.
In 2019, the 21st edition of the book was edited by Murray Fraser and Catherine Gregg under the sponsorship of RIBA.
The RIBA claims that this edition represents the most comprehensive survey of architecture around the globe to this date and is written by 88 experts around the world.
The most enduring component over the years was the line drawings as a tool for the neutral comparative analysis of the buildings from a given period. Many illustrations in the book were canny re-drawings of plans and sections from other learned times. The pretence of neutrality was inevitably flawed with what to draw and what to leave out.
From the very first edition, the text in the book was serious and learned, later editions gradually expanded but they were not substantially rewritten. The text was straightforward and descriptive and often lapsed into long lists of examples. The coverage on topics was very uneven, fulsome when mediaeval English cathedrals were being covered and weak when it was non- western architecture or of any architectural style after the 1800s.
Banister Fletcher is widely owned by previous generations of architects, it is known to be a tome of immaculate black and white lithographs and consists of some of the most celebrated classical examples of architecture across Europe and beyond.
Although when it was originally published in the year 1896, it was more of an exalted catalogue of key sites for the aristocrat.
The actual flaw in the work is its colonialist mentality and it is being pro-western. The first edition was steeped in the late Victorian myths of the empire. Nothing with the ancient middle east and outside Europe was covered. Over the years with time, during the 4th edition of the book, non-historian and non-western styles were added in the 5th and 6th editions.
Ten years ago, an idea to reinvigorate the work was embraced by the Banister Fletcher trust, the book is re-titled Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture and it was completely rewritten. Today, over half of the text is given to non-western architecture and there is a wider spectrum of drawings and photographs and each chapter is written by an expert on that topic.
The global history of architecture is a two-volume set with roughly 4,000 pages and over 2000 illustrations spanning over 5,500 years. The first volume of the book deals with architecture all over the world before the 15th century and the second covers architecture around the 21st century. The topic is covered by a subject matter expert. The book is mainly organised first by time and then by region. The introduction is a wonderful contextualization written by the editor himself; Murray Fraser. The book is offered digitally as an accessible online portal. It is said that this version of the book, Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History could have the power to demystify architecture.
The re-titled book is an attempt to consciously distance from Fletcher’s authoritarian points where colonial notions of otherness are provided, from the very well-known illustrated tree to the focus on historical structures and non-historical ones.
The beauty of the original book by Fletcher lies in the lavish drawings that have provided the framework for the text, giving the reader a feel of a narrated slideshow. It shouldn’t come as a shock to see the original drawings in the re-titled book playing a significantly reduced role.
Fletcher used various means to communicate his ideas, from collecting lantern slides to large-scale prints of his drawings. Therefore, it seems fitting that the new book employs various modes of dissemination and welcomes new audiences to a work that has followed through reappraisal and will become a vital part of the architectural canon.