English Heritage applauds Sir Nikolaus Pevsner

The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner will be commemorated today with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at 2 Wildwood Terrace, Hampstead, NW3, where he lived from 1936 until his death in 1983.Pevsner was born in Leipzig to a family of Russian-Jewish origin. He completed his doctoral thesis on the baroque merchant houses of Leipzig in 1924 and went on to become the assistant keeper at the Dresden Gallery and later a lecturer at the University of Göttingen. It was at Göttingen that, after specialising in Italian Mannerist painting, Pevsner turned his attention to English architecture, making his first research visit to the country in 1930.

In 1933 Nazi race laws excluded Pevsner from his post and he left Germany for England. He held a fellowship at the University of Birmingham and soon established himself as a proponent of Modernism and an emerging authority on the country's visual scene; Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius hailed architecture as perhaps the most important of all the arts.

In 1941 he began his association with Penguin began when he was employed by Allen Lane to edit the King Penguin series. Since arriving in England Pevsner had found the "lack of a guidebook such a nuisance" and when Lane asked him what project he wished to embark on next, he ambitiously committed himself to producing a comprehensive guide to the buildings of England, with one volume covering each county. An exhaustive rate of production commenced; three volumes of the Buildings of England appeared in 1951 and thereafter two books were published almost annually.

In 1974, the 46-volume series was completed. Since then, the Pevsner Architectural Guides - as they are now known - have been revised and expanded to include Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and are widely regarded as the most authoritative source for information on the buildings of Britain.

In 1958, at a time when Victorian architecture was deeply unpopular, he became a founding member of the Victorian Society, and was later to serve as Chairman (1963-76). Such was the influence of the inclusion of a building in the Pevsner guides that it was frequently saved from destruction.

Pevsner was appointed CBE in 1953; in 1967 he was awarded the RIBA Royal gold medal for architecture, and was knighted in 1969.

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