Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News > Rugbeian Society News > Nicholas Olsberg (C 56-61) to Publish Book: 'The Master Builder: William Butterfield and His Times'

Nicholas Olsberg (C 56-61) to Publish Book: 'The Master Builder: William Butterfield and His Times'

Nicholas Olsberg (C 56-61) is set to publish his book, The Master Builder: William Butterfield and His Times, which will be available for purchase at the end of October 2024.

This book delves into the life and work of William Butterfield, the daring, rigorous, and brilliant architect responsible for many of Rugby School's iconic buildings, including the Chapel, New Big School, the Temple Reading Room, and the Racquets courts. Olsberg's work examines how Butterfield navigated the emergence of modern society, reflecting the evolving focus of his architectural practice. Each chapter addresses a societal shift and surveys Butterfield’s most significant contributions, drawing extensively on literature of the time. The book offers in-depth analysis of seminal projects such as All Saints' Margaret Street and Keble College, features two dedicated chapters on Rugby School, and includes a stunning portfolio of the new quad by James Morris.

Enjoy an extract from the prologue below: 

"I arrived at Rugby School in 1956. It was the summer of the future. Of 'Howl' and 'Heartbreak Hotel'. The first Citroen DS appearing on city streets. 'This Is Tomorrow' and the 'House of the Future'. A child of the Blitz, I was building-mad, and when I had days to myself, I would bike to Coventry and watch the promise of a clean and well-lit new life arise in the horizontal layers of the Precincts, the Baths and Belgrade Square, although the first glimmers of a new cathedral that looked suspiciously like Butterfield's brick turned unnaturally to stone left me quite unmoved. 

"I had delighted through my boyhood in looking up at the canyons of brick and terracotta in Manchester. So I warmed only very slowly to the tamer tones of the sturdy past, the demure, provincial, fussy faces of Butterfield's Rugby. But after five years turning hourly through his concrete stairs, lining up in his cloister, playing fives in his courts, jumping in his gym, and seated under the brilliant windows of his chapel, classrooms and library, they acted on their purpose as character-shaping agents. I could finally grasp their endless oddities of conjunction and incident, discern the unity that underlies variety, and train my eye to attend with care to the haptic fascinations of their surface. I came secretly (for it would have been shameful to confess) to love them all; would arrive early for Sunday evensong to watch the light come through the claws of the chapel apse; and spared no chance to wander the Temple Reading Room alone and sit with a book beside its great marble heart as the western light faded through the leaded windows. 

"It was an astonishing library, where I found Engels' Origin of the Family and Hegel's Philosophy of History along with a proud treasure trove of Rugby's liberal poets and thinkers, from Arthur Hugh Clough and Matthew Arnold to T.H. Green, R.H Tawney and R.G Collingwood. And it was their thinking - especially of the three last as I understood them - that built the optic through which I have looked at works of art, at states of society and at the means to read the past"... "Those were the happy highways where I went, and these the settings that shaped me. So this book in fond homage is an attempt to comprehend Butterfield's works, in their times, as a hoard of our history and an expression of our ever-changing mind."

Nicholas Olsberg is former director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and founding Head of the Getty Research Institute Special Collections, is an independent archivist, curator, critic and historian with a particular interest in architectural ideas and artefacts as an expression of the society and temper of their time.

His study of William Butterfield is due to be published in October 2024 and will be available to purchase in the Rugby School Shop. 

Similar stories

Most read

Have your say



Rugbeian Community Office

✉ Email us

+44 (0) 1788 556 139

© Rugby School 2022

Charity Registration Number 528752

This website is powered by