Experience Oxford in a beautiful new book

Professor Ian Davis taught in the School of Architecture from 1971 to 1989, befoe returning as a visiting professor in the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP). He has been painting Oxford for nearly 50 years. Ian spoke to Observe about his time at Oxford Brookes and his beautiful new book, Experiencing Oxford, which features over a hundred of his watercolours and drawings.

How long did you teach in the School of Architecture?

“I started teaching in 1971, when I was appointed as ‘Third Year Master’. We had the task of developing a BA degree course. I believe it was the first undergraduate degree to be developed within the Polytechnic. I retired from teaching in 1989.

“Later I was given the honour of being made a Visiting Professor with links to the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP) I have been a visiting lecturer in this Centre until 2019, when I decided that at the age of 82 the time had come to retire from teaching and consultancy in the fields of Disaster Risk Management and Recovery.”

How did Experiencing Oxford come about?

“The seeds for the book were sown throughout my teaching career in Oxford. For myself and many colleagues the city of Oxford was a marvelously rich ‘laboratory of architecture and urban design’ . Therefore we based projects throughout the city, we went on study walks with our students, I led drawing and watercolour exercises in various places and I gave numerous lectures on Oxford that resulted in a jaundiced comment from a world-weary student in the early 1980’s, ‘oh Ian, not another lecture about Oxford ?…’

“Also, in the 1990’s a new alumni journal was created by Oxford University called ‘Oxford Today’. For five happy years the editor invited be to prepare a centre-fold for each issue on some aspect of Oxford: (the skyline, waterways, selected buildings, streets etc). I was also asked to paint watercolours of over 14 Oxford Colleges.

“So this book is the fruit from all these seeds, and a pleasant change from writing about disasters where I have written or edited or co-authored over twenty books.”

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Why did you focus on ‘Experiencing’ Oxford?

“There are so many excellent guides to Oxford, so there was no need to join their ranks. I have always been interested in how we experience the built and natural environment through our various senses, by symbolism and association etc. So this became the linked theme of the book.

“In my experience of architectural practice as well as teaching I felt that there was a strong visual bias in design, with a consequent neglect of other senses: touch, sound, smell, movement etc. So the book explores these themes by looking at selected buildings, streets, squares etc.”

Why did you fill the book with your drawings and paintings?

“Some people like to read, while others prefer to look, so I decided to to make the text applicable to both groups. I have been painting Oxford for almost 50 years and decided to cast modesty to one side by including over a hundred of my watercolours or drawings in the book, since I hope that they will convey what I feel about individual buildings, urban landscapes etc.”

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Ian inspecting proofs of his book

How can people buy copies of the book?

“Due to the Corona Virus this book has not yet arrived in shops, so it can be bought through my website ianrobertdavis.com or by contacting me directly by email on ian.robert.davis@gmail.com

“The book retails at £25.00, but for Oxford Brookes students, alumni and staff it is discounted to £20.00 plus postage in the UK of £3.00.”

All artwork by Ian Davis

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