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Dr Michael Johnson

Lecturer in Design History; Admissions Tutor for BA(Hons) Art and Design History

Department: Arts

Dr Michael Johnson is a design historian with a particular interest in the histories of 19th and 20th century architecture.


Before joining Northumbria University in 2012 as a Lecturer in Design History, I was employed as an Academic Tutor at Sunderland University, teaching on the Interior Design and Illustration courses. At the same time, I was employed as an Architecture Consultant for the Durham Victoria County History, investigating the history of Sunderland. My research resulted in the publication of a co-authored monograph[M1]  on the architecture of Sunderland (2013), as well as an independently authored study of working class housing in the city (2015).

At doctoral level, I was one of six students nationwide to gain funding for my PhD in architectural history from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (£40,000). My thesis, Architectural Taste and Patronage in Newcastle upon Tyne, 1870-1914,was supervised by Professor Cheryl Buckley and investigated the economic, social and cultural factors that underpin architectural production, thus offering a new insight into the workings of patronage. In 2012 I delivered a paper based on my research at the Institute for Historical Research and was subsequently invited to contribute to the Victorian Society’s conference in Newcastle in 2012.  

I was the first student in Northumbria University’s Department of Arts to gain Arts and Humanities Research Board funding (£10,000) for my Master’s Degree in Humanities Research. My dissertation investigated the work of the 19th century Catholic architects Dunn and Hansom. A distillation of this research was published in Northern Catholic History in 2008 and I am currently expanding this into a scholarly monograph.

As an undergraduate student at Northumbria University I achieved the degree of BA (Hons) in the History of Modern Art, Design and Film. My dissertation was entitled Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement: St Andrew’s Church, Roker, and investigated one of the finest Edwardian churches in the country, viewing it as a collaborative work by esteemed members of the Arts and Crafts movement. On the strength of this research I was invited to deliver a research paper at the church’s Centenary Symposium in 2007. This was subsequently published in Durham Archaeological Journal in 2009.

Campus Address

Lipman 423A

0191 243 7316


  • PhD Architectural History (2010);
  • MA Humanities Research (2003);
  • BA(Hons) History of Modern Art, Design and Film (2002)

Research Themes and Scholarly Interests

My research interests revolve around the histories of 19th and 20th century architecture nationally and internationally. Current research projects investigate the Catholic Revival in architecture and ecclesiology and the Northumbrian country house. As part of an international collaborative project funded by Routledge, my recent work explores the interfaces between architecture and other disciplines, including visual art, design and film.

I have a longstanding interest in the architecture of North East England, particularly the conurbations of Newcastle and Sunderland. I am currently writing a monograph on country houses in the North East in collaboration with Dr Richard Pears of Durham University. Provisionally entitled The Northumbrian Country House, this will examine the history of elite dwellings in Durham and Northumberland from the Tudor period to the present. I am also working on a monograph on the architects Dunn and Hansom, who spearheaded the resurgence of Catholic architecture in the 19th century. Developing from my MA dissertation and entitled Dunn and Hansom: Architects of the Catholic Revival, this publication will re-situate this important architectural practice within a national context. 

Stemming from my current teaching interests, I am working on several projects that investigate interactions between design and film. I am writing a journal article about the innovative Universal horror film The Black Cat (1936), which used mise en scène inspired by the Bauhaus and expressionism, springing from the director’s connections with the modernist architect Hans Poelzig. This study will examine the film’s mise en scène and its links to the transnational avant-garde currents of the era. I also plan to publish an article on the Judge Dredd comic strip featuring in the British comic 2000AD. This will be viewed as an inherently postmodernist text that critiques modernist attitudes to urbanism and Corbusian mass housing forms, while also using the devices of parody, pastiche and intertextuality to negotiate anxieties within the economic and political climate of the 1970s and 80s.  

Professional Activity

In 2012 I was appointed Subject Editor for Architecture on the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Modernism, a major international collaboration that will provide a single location for definitions of terms related to the study of modernism globally and across the arts disciplines. As one of eight Subject Editors, my role has been to marshal a team of Editorial Advisory Board members and expert scholars from around the world to produce over 300 entries. Stemming from this project, I have contributed a chapter on modernist architecture and design in Europe to The Modernist World, an edited volume published by Routledge in 2015.

I am a Director of Sunderland Heritage Quarter CIC Ltd, which promotes heritage-driven regeneration in the east end of Sunderland. In 2013 I contributed to SHQ’s successful bid for a £10,000 ‘Sharing Heritage’ award from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This financed our project ‘Georgian Treasures of Sunderland’, which helped to breathe life into the district's important historic buildings and landscape. Public talks, workshops, exhibitions and history surgeries focused on the Grade I listed Queen Street Masonic Hall, the oldest in the world still in use. We discovered unique archival material relating to 18th century freemasonry and ensured its safe deposit into Tyne and Wear Archives, while developing a plan for all these remarkable documents to be digitized and made available in the immediate locality. I personally organised a successful exhibition of architectural models made by a former Sunderland shipyard worker, and delivered public talks on Georgian architecture and fashion, and the representation of architecture in the novels of Jane Austen.

I am highly active in regional engagement activities, working with local communities and forming links with partner organisations such as Living History North East,Queen Street Masonic Hall and The Canny Space. I frequently give public talks for organisations such as the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle City Library and Sunderland City Library and Arts Centre. Between 2003 and 2007, I was employed by the Victoria County History, the most authoritative and prestigious local history organisation in Britain. The VCH commissioned me to research the architecture of Sunderland and my report informed the writing of Dr Gill Cookson’s book Sunderland: Building a City, published by Phillimore in 2010, as well as the VCH’s major volume on Sunderland, published in 2015. This research culminated in The Architecture of Sunderland, 1700-1914, a book co-written with Graham Potts. This is the first comprehensive, academic study of Sunderland architecture and was published by The History Press in 2013. Independently, I am the author of The Sunderland Cottage: a History of Wearside’s ‘Little Palaces’, which was published by Amberley in 2015.

Key Publications

‘Architects to a Diocese: Dunn and Hansom of Newcastle’ in Northern Catholic History, no.49, 2008, pp3-17.

‘“An Uncalculating Grasp of Beauty”: St. Andrew's Church, Roker, County Durham’ in Durham Archaeological Journal, Nov. 2009.

‘The Sunderland Cottage: the favourite and typical dwelling of the skilled mechanic’ in Vernacular Architecture, Vol.41, 2010, pp59-74.

Johnson, M. and Potts, G., The Architecture of Sunderland, 1700-1914. Stroud: The History Press, 2013.

‘Modernist Architecture and Design in Europe’in Lindgren, A. and Ross, S. (2015) The Modernist World. London: Routledge.

The Sunderland Cottage: a History of Wearside’s ‘Little Palaces’. Stroud: Amberley, 2015.

Current/Recent Projects

Georgian Treasures of Sunderland, a collaboration between Sunderland Heritage Quarter and Queen Street Masonic Trust, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, September 2013 - January 2014, co-organiser.


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