Biopolitical architectures of ‘Efficiency’ in Edwardian Britain

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In late Victorian and Edwardian Britain significant anxiety arose over the maintenance of Britain’s place in the world. Intense commercial and industrial competition, accompanied by political tensions over Great Power rivalry, led to a crisis of confidence that not only initiated the ‘New Imperialism’ but also instigated an introspective assault on mid-Victorian complacencies concerning education, productivity, and racial vigour. Reflecting on the British Army’s early defeats in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), many claimed that Britain and its people had ‘gone soft’, enervated by the adverse consequences of industrialisation and urbanisation. Facing a general populous that was widely regarded as unhealthy and intellectually inept, leading politicians began campaigning for systematic social reform. The ‘Efficiency Movement’ was born.

‘Efficiency’ in this context was a biopolitical initiative. Orchestrated by Liberal Imperialists, it asserted that Britain and its people could be reinvigorated and thus reordered according to the active cultivation of desired physical and psychological traits, assisted by the rolling out of a new, scientifically-orientated education system, including regimental forms of physical exercise. These ideas, influenced as they were by eugenics, had a direct impact on architectural design, especially in the specification for government buildings, where increased levels of concentration, communication, and thus productivity were paramount in the arrangement of internal space. With a view to enhancing British power and influence in the world, architecture was seen as playing an active role in moulding a new, more modern, and thus more ‘efficient’ civil service (H. G. Wells’s ‘samurai’). This included the wholesale introduction of electric lighting, modern HVAC systems, and the latest in telecommunications infrastructure as standard.

This paper will consider these ideas and their impact on interior design in relation to several key buildings in Edwardian London, including the New Government and War offices on Whitehall (1898-1902).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 29 Apr 2022
EventSociety of Architectural Historians (USA) annual conference 2022 - Westin Hotel, Pittsburgh, United States
Duration: 27 Apr 20221 May 2022


ConferenceSociety of Architectural Historians (USA) annual conference 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • biopolitics
  • Edwardian
  • architecture
  • empire
  • imperialism
  • Baroque
  • efficiency
  • nationalism


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