Matthew Wells

Matthew Wells


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Matthew Wells is Lecturer in Architectural Humanities at University of Manchester and member of the Manchester Architecture Research Group (MARG). His research uses architecture and visual culture to examine society, institutions, and individuals in the long nineteenth century. Particular focus is given to the intersection between representational techniques, technology, and professional expertise in the built environments of Britain and Europe.

He studied art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art and completed his doctorate in the History of Design Programme at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art. Before his appointment at Manchester he was junior faculty at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich.

Wells is the author of two monographs Modelling the Metropolis: The Architectural Model in Victorian London (2022) and  Survey: Architecture Iconographies (2021) and co-editor of An Alphabet of Architectural Models (2021). Recently his research has been published in Architectural History, the Burlington Magazine, JSAH, and the Journal of Art Historiography, as well as contributing to the Paul Mellon Centre’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769-2018.

His most recent book, Modelling the Metropolis, provides a new understanding of how Victorian London was conceptualised, debated, and constructed through architectural models. At a crucial moment of the London’s development, models were a vital medium of communication that enabled architects, politicians, and the wider public to conceive the city’s expansion of buildings and spaces. The research was awarded the Theodor-Fischer-Preis (2019) from the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich and commended in the RIBA President's Awards for Research (2017).

Additional research is concentrated in two areas. First, ‘Things of Modernity’, a new history of modern architecture researched through its material culture.  Second, ‘Lines of Communication’ examines the relationship between architecture and the new forms of media that emerged in Britain and further afield.

Dr Wells welcomes enquiries from potential PhD students with interests in Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Britain; material and technical history of architecture; architecture and empire in the British World; any aspect of architectural professionalism and construction labour. 


Key publications include:

WELLS, Matthew: Modelling the Metropolis: The Architectural Model in Victorian London (Zurich: gta Verlag, 2022)


WELLS, Matthew: Survey: Architecture Iconographies (Zurich: Park Books, 2021)


HORSFALL TURNER, Olivia, Simona VALERIANI, Matthew WELLS, and Teresa FÄNKHANEL eds.: An Alphabet of Architectural Models (London: Merrell, 2021)


MINDRUP, Matthew and Matthew WELLS eds.: ‘The Architectural Model as Tool, Medium and Agent of Change’, special edition of Architectural Theory Review 24, no.3 (Spring 2020)


WELLS, Matthew: ‘1847: J.B. Bunning and the Coal Exchange Model’, in M. Hallett, S. Turner and J. Feather, eds. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 1769-2018, Paul Mellon Centre / Royal Academy (2018)


WELLS, Matthew: ‘Architectural Models and the Rebuilding of the Royal Exchange, 1839 – 1844.’ Architectural History 60 (2017) 219-241.

Research interests

Architectural Models

My second book examines how as nineteenth-century London expanded, was rebuilt, and reconfigured, architectural models were central in the expectations and interactions between architects, politicians, and the wider public in local, national, and global settings. With the construction of new civic buildings, in private debates, and public exhibitions architectural models had a central part to play in the discussions surrounding the appearance of the contemporary city. In these settings the three reform acts of the nineteenth century provided a new context and a new series of concerns for the built environment that caused popular and professional debate. These debates often turned on the ability of a model to present an accurate idea of a completed building to the public.

While in their representations of historic landscapes, proposed buildings, and new methods of construction, models were also a key part of how audiences interacted with the built environment at the major international expositions of the nineteenth century. Similarly, models became a part of how new metropolitan museums were able to deliver public education to their visitors. Likewise, the expansion of new building codes and requirements in London facilitated a significant increase in building litigation and a new type of model emerged as a rhetorical tool for lawyers to use in the courtroom. Combined together this uses models to present a new understanding of London, the built environment, and the socio-political role of architecture in the long 19th century.

The more conceptual aspect of modelling has been explored in a special issue of Architectural Theory Review, edited in collaboration with Matthew Mindrup (University of Sydney). A wider study on architectural models, An Alphabet of Architectural Models (2021) was published in collaboration with Olivia Horsfall Turner (Victoria & Albert Museum), Simona Valeriani (Victoria & Albert Museum), and Teresa Fänkhanel (TU Munich).


Things of Modernity

In collaboration with Professor Laurent Stalder and Dr Andreas Kalpakci at ETH Zurich, aim of the dual teaching and research project is to propose a new reading of modern architecture (1850-20XX), beginning not with the ever-changing “heroes” or canonical “pioneers”, nor the “key buildings”, but with a constellation of ‘things’ that shaped modern life each, with their own fields of discourse, systems of knowledge, and constellation of products.

From agriculture to architecture, from the household to the metropolis, the beginnings of the modern reconfiguration of the built environment in Europe (and further afield) can be traced back to the various industrial developments and their outcomes in the nineteenth century. The factors that widely transformed society at this time were less a set of formal accomplishments in the form of auteur architecture, but rather a set of new fields of scientific expertise (e.g. hygiene), processes (e.g. electrification or access to water), and expert knowledge (e.g. the professionalisation of architects, engineers, and urban planners). These new fields allowed for the regulation of the environment through a series of systems, devices, and techniques. In turn these reconfigurations brought a comprehensive reorganisation of architecture and urban planning: how it was constructed, how it was controlled, and how it was understood amongst the various practitioners and users of the built environment.



All architecture begins with the survey. Whether roughly outlined in a sketchbook or carefully documented on a sheet of paper, the survey is a primary method for architects and artists to examine the condition, situation and boundary of the architectural site. This site is not just limited to individual buildings or landscapes. Instead surveys incorporate all aspects of the physical and intellectual world. As evidence, experiment or proposition, surveys have the potential to record, revise and invent. At a particular moment – in a drawing, sketch, or photograph – the survey gives the architect the possibility to look both to the past and to the future. Other surveys offer no site other than the architect themselves: their references, interests and desires to transform the existing conditions of their environment.

This research project resulted in the publication of Survey: Architecture Iconographies (Zurich: Park Books, 2021) 


Lines of Communication

Lines of Communication examines the relationship between architecture and technology in the long nineteenth century, focusing on new forms of media that emerged in Britain and further afield. Examples include letters, telegrams, and telephone calls.

A central hypothesis is that by examining the overlap between architecture and communications media in Victorian Britain offers a compelling route to understanding how individuals and groups interacted with state institutions and how they experienced modern life – both within the boundaries of Britain and further afield within the British Empire.

At present, around 20% of the research has been completed during a fellowship at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich (Summer 2021). Initial findings were presented at an international conference, ‘Architectures of Colonialism: Constructed Histories, Conflicting Memories’ at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg (June 2021).


Further information




Humanities Bridgeford Street Building

Room 1.22

University of Manchester  

M13 9PL

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Education/Academic qualification

Postgraduate Diploma, RIBA Part 3

Master of Arts, History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art (University of London)

Doctor of Philosophy, Design History, Royal College of Art

Areas of expertise

  • NA Architecture
  • D204 Modern History
  • N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
  • TH Building construction


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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  • Theodor-Fischer-Preis

    Wells, Matthew (Recipient), 2019

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)