National Life Stories

8 December 2020 : Keith Williams’ marathon recording for Architects Lives, part of National Life Stories at the British Library, is now complete

Keith Williams’ marathon recording for Architects Lives, part of National Life Stories at the British Library, is now complete and is available for listening via the Sound and Moving Image catalogue at the British Library, and in 2021, online.

Interviewed by historian Dr Niamh Dillon, in multiple sessions during 2018 and 2019, the outputs resulted in over 20 hours of recording time during which Keith looks back on his life and the trajectory that led him to study architecture and ultimately to set up practice and pursue his independent career. He reflects on his life and times both inside and outside architecture, examines the architectural and cultural influences that have shaped his oeuvre and the back stories behind many of his most important buildings.

National Life Stories was established in 1987 and is now the UK’s foremost repository of oral history.  Architects Lives’ was one of the earliest collections and now contains over 150 life story recordings with prominent British architects – one of the largest collections in the world.

These life story recordings with distinguished architects document those whose achievements mapped out the rise of modernism after the Second World War, fueled by the convictions that produced the National Health Service, public sector housing and the welfare state. Prominent interviewees include Sir Hugh Casson, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, Sir Denys Lasdun, Mary Lutyens, Sir Philip Powell and Colin St. John Wilson, Sir Terry Farrell, and Sir Michael Hopkins.

The next generation of baby boomers, whose childhoods, university educations and subsequent careers emerged from this background, are now at the peak of their powers but very few have had the chance to record their life stories and capture the way UK architecture, with the demise of the state as a major employer, became an entirely private sector phenomenon. 

With household names such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers now in their eighties, this next cohort including Keith Williams, Rab and Denise Bennetts, Bob Allies and Graham Morrison, and Tony Fretton, is perhaps less well-known but now produce some of the best and most voluminous work around. 

National Life Stories was established ‘To record and preserve a wide range of voices through

in-depth biographical accounts, to make them available and inspire their use’.

For over thirty years it has initiated a series of innovative interviewing programmes funded almost entirely from sponsorship, charitable and individual donations and voluntary effort. National Life Stories and British Library Oral History provide online access to over 23,500 individual recordings from 4,000 oral history interviews in a selection of thirty collections via British Library Sounds