Oxford Brookes pays tribute to Paul Oliver MBE

Monday, 21 August 2017

Paul Oliver

The University received sad news last week of the death of Professor Paul Oliver MBE, celebrated art historian, at the age of 90.

Paul graduated from the University of London in 1955. During his career he has taught at various institutions, including the National Gallery, the Architectural Association, Dartington College of Arts and Oxford Brookes University.

He wrote and edited a large number of books on vernacular architecture, most notably the monumental Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (Cambridge University Press), which won the Sir Bannister Fletcher Award for Art and Architecture in 1998.

He was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and received a life time achievement award from the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE) in 2002.

In 2003 Paul received an MBE in recognition of his contribution to architectural education.

In addition to his work on vernacular architecture, Paul was a leading scholar in the field of African-American music and wrote a large number of books on the Blues. In recognition of his significant contributions to the study of Blues music, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008.

Oxford Brookes hosts the Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library collection (POVAL) in the Special Collections section of the main library for staff, students and visiting scholars.

Fortunately, his legacy will live on through his publications, his collections and the teaching programmes he helped to establish and contributed to at Oxford Brookes.

Dr Marcel Vellinga, Reader in Anthropology of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University

This is a unique multi-disciplinary collection of printed and visual resources dealing with vernacular architecture worldwide. Collected over a period of more than 50 years by Paul and the largest collection of its kind in the world, it includes works by architects, geographers, architectural and art historians, planners, folklorists, archaeologists, conservationists and anthropologists.

It includes Paul’s architectural archive, which among other things contains his correspondence, conference papers and unclassified graphic material.

The University is also host to the Paul Oliver Collection of African American Music and Related Traditions; the largest collection of Blues-related items outside America. Containing books, recordings, photographs, magazines and rare publications such as songbooks and music sheets, it is another fantastic resource for students and scholars.

Dr Marcel Vellinga, Reader in Anthropology of Architecture in Oxford Brookes’ School of Architecture said: “We are very saddened that Paul has passed away. He was an inspiration, teacher and mentor to students and colleagues around the world, whose knowledge, wisdom and ability to motivate and inspire students in both the fields of vernacular architecture and Blues music will be greatly missed.

“Fortunately, his legacy will live on through his publications, his collections and the teaching programmes he helped to establish and contributed to at Oxford Brookes. We are delighted to host Paul’s collections in the Main Library; they are fantastic, global resources of value to anyone interested in the study of the world’s build environments and African American cultural history.

“I had been working with Paul recently on creating an architecture image library of his work, comprising of a collection of more than 20,000 images that have all been catalogued and digitised by volunteer students. The intention is for this to be a further valuable resource for teaching and research. We still plan to go ahead with a launch scheduled in October in honour of Paul’s great achievements.” 

The New York Times published an obituary on Paul, as well as The Telegraph and The Washington Post.