Social Philosophy

John Ruskin and the ‘Poetry of Architecture’

Dr Christopher Donaldson
Thursday, 13 February 2020 - 7:00pm


For Ruskin the study of buildings was inseparable from the study of nature.  He held that all true ‘forms and thoughts’ in architecture were ‘directly taken from natural objects’ (Works 8.141).  In this lecture, Christopher Donaldson shall examine the origins of this ideal and trace its development over the course of Ruskin’s works, from his boyhood studies of Lake District cottages to his lectures at Oxford in the 1880s.  This body of work is diverse, but it is underpinned by a conviction that architecture is both ‘a science of the rule and compass’ and ‘a science of feeling’ (Works 1.5).  Early in his career, Ruskin referred to the study of this dual science as the ‘Poetry of Architecture’, and the speaker shall consider the aptness of this expression to many of his later assertions about building and design.  More than just providing a survey of Ruskin’s writings, however, Christopher Donaldson's aim in this lecture will also be to explore the significance of his thinking about architecture for the 21st century.  To that end,the speaker shall conclude by considering the new relevance Ruskin’s principles have found in our environmentally anxious age.

Event update 27/01/20 - We had originally booked Professor Sandra Kemp to speak to the Society about 'Ruskin and the Polygon' on this date but sadly, due to unexpected circumstances, she can no longer join us.  Her colleague Dr Christopher Donaldson has kindly offered to speak about John Ruskin and the ‘Poetry of Architecture’ in her place and we are most grateful to him for stepping in.


About the speaker

Dr Christopher Donaldson is Research Centre Coordinator at The Ruskin Library, Museum and Research Centre at Lancaster University, where he is also Lecturer in Cultural History.  His research is principally concerned with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cultural history, and he is particularly interested in changing perceptions of the value of landscape and the environment during this period.





Event image: John Ruskin, ‘Castle Rock, St John’s Vale, Keswick’ (c.1838), 31.3 x 28.7 cm; pencil and watercolour. 1996P2067 © The Ruskin – Library Museum and Research Centre, Lancaster University



Lamb hotpot served with pickled cabbage and crusty bread

Green vegetable risotto


Manchester tart

Fresh fruit salad





UPDATE 10/02/2020: As final supper numbers have now been confirmed with the venue, 'lecture and supper' tickets are no longer available.


UPDATE 13/02/2020:  There are still a few tickets available.  If you would like to attend, please register at the venue from 6.30 pm.