In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sir Herbert Baker

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews (Monographs)
  • Reference Works on Baker (General)
  • Baker’s Writings
  • Other Writings on Baker (Design)
  • Dissertations
  • Archive Material

Architecture Planning and Preservation Sir Herbert Baker
G.A. Bremner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0094


Herbert Baker was a prominent British architect who was especially active between the 1890s and late 1930s. He spent much of his early career in South Africa, where he came under the influence of the leading South African politician and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes. Baker established his reputation during this early period designing houses for the colonial patrician classes in Cape Town and Johannesburg, as well as several key civic buildings, including the Union Buildings in Pretoria (1910–1913), the seat of the newly united Dominion of South Africa government. He would go on to assist Edwin Lutyens in planning and designing key administrative buildings in the imperial capital of New Delhi in British India. Of these his two most significant were the Secretariat Buildings (1912–1927), flanking King’s Way in front of Lutyens’s majestic Viceroy’s House. In Britain Baker is noted for having designed the high commission buildings of India House (1928–1930) and South Africa House (1930–1933), both in London, as well as for the unenviable task of rebuilding the Bank of England (1921–1942), for which he was later much criticized, somewhat unfairly. His relationship to Cecil Rhodes also saw him receive the commission to design Rhodes House, Oxford (1929), the base for Rhodes’s now famous Oxford scholarship scheme. Baker is of interest as an architect as much for his intellectual musings on the nature of architecture as for his buildings. He wrote and lectured on architecture a great deal throughout his career, leaving behind a rich corpus of handwritten, typed, and published manuscripts. This body of work betrays not only his passion for the architecture of Christopher Wren, but also his commitment to the British empire and ideas concerning the merits of imperialism more generally. In this regard Baker was one of the most ideologically driven architects operating during the “high noon” of the British empire, capturing in his words and buildings the cultural, racial, and political sentiments of empire more than any other British architect, before or since. His output therefore provides a near unparalleled window onto the relationship between architecture and empire in the history of British architecture. Most of the works listed below touch on this legacy in one form or another. The following bibliography is not exhaustive but covers most of the major works by and on the architect. Smaller journalistic pieces in newspapers and magazines, of which there are many, are largely omitted.

General Overviews (Monographs)

Despite his significance as an architect in colonial South Africa, there have been surprisingly few attempts at writing monographs covering different aspects of Baker’s oeuvre. This is no doubt owing to the demise of his reputation in the decades immediately following WWII, as well as the obsolete and politically deleterious subject of imperialism, of which he was an unerring advocate. To date three monograph studies have been produced.

  • Greig, Doreen E. Herbert Baker in South Africa. Cape Town: Purnell, 1970.

    First standard architectural biography of Baker, focusing on his career in South Africa. Began as a PhD dissertation at the University of the Witwatersrand. Good substantial overview.

  • Keath, Michael. Herbert Baker: Architecture and Idealism 1892–1913: The South African Years. Gibraltar: Ashanti Publishing, 1992.

    Building on the work of Greig, this book engages more with Baker’s thought and theory as an architect. discussing, among other things, Baker’s concern for the relationship between architecture and British imperialism. It also considers Baker’s architectural “style.”

  • Stewart, John. Sir Herbert Baker: Architect to the British Empire. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, 2021

    Only full biography of Baker, covering his work and other activities in Britain, South Africa, India, and elsewhere. Presents Baker as a product of his time. Considers his engagement with imperial politics and personalities, as well as the idea of Baker as an “architect of empire.” A less critical take on Baker the man and his work, but informative nonetheless.

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