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Museum Without Walls

By Jonathan Meades

Jonathan Meades on places and the people that make them

Non fiction | Birthday Selection
127% funded
753 supporters

Publication date: November 2013

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Jonathan Meades has an obsessive preoccupation with places. He has spent thirty years constructing sixty films, two novels and hundreds of pieces of journalism that explore an extraordinary range of them, from natural landscapes to man-made buildings and 'the gaps between them', drawing attention to what he calls 'the rich oddness of what we take for granted'.

This book collects 54 pieces and six film scripts that dissolve the barriers between high and low culture, good and bad taste, deep seriousness and black comedy. Meades delivers what he calls 'heavy entertainment' – strong opinions backed up by an astonishing depth of knowledge. To read Meades on places, buildings, politics, or cultural history is an exhilarating workout for the mind. He leaves you better informed, more alert, less gullible.

Publication of the hardback in 2012 was greeted with stunning reviews and the book was one of the most frequently chosen Books of the Year.

"Meades is a walking personification of the encounter of words and building. He is literate, conjuring Borges, Nabokov or Ezra Pound. He dazzles with words. He parades wit prose. He piles up images and associations into teetering constructions, and then moves deftly on before we can see if they collapse. His writing can take us into the mind of a buzzard and out again, without apparent effort. When he wants to kill with words, he can swivel and stab in an instant…He loves buildings and, more than buildings, places – “the greatest of all free shows”, as he calls them. His promiscuous appetite takes in almost anything…You should just sit back and enjoy the ride."

"The sentences and vocabulary in this book zigzag between the lordly and the thuggish, between high culture and low, between grand assertion and intricate description…I hope he grumbles on for decades to come'

"Museum Without Walls is sonorous with [his] voice and reveals how much of it is in the writing rather than the delivery. The voice is immensely learned, auto-didactic, and thankfully channelled through RADA and journalism rather than RIBA and academia. The essays are literary rather than 'architecture writing', to which they deliver several brutal kickings... To enjoy Meades on television will be to enjoy Musuem Without Walls, and we now have an indispensible companion to one of the most original and valuable commentators on architecture working today"
WILL WILES, Building Design

"A sense of subversion suffuses every page. From Canary Wharf to Buenos Aires or mushroom-hunting in the forest, he will inspire you to look and think and look again"

"For the last thirty years Britain's most consistently surprising and informative writer on the built environment… What Meades does most often is praise things, especially things that are habitually ignored: he is surely our greatest exponent of what the Russian Formalists call ostranenie, “making strange”… Meades's work is so generous, so rich and so obviously contentious that to mount a critique of it seems churlish. No one else could combine of the aesthetic and political positions he flexes so aggressively"
OWEN HATHERLEY, London Review of Books

"Meades loves architecture, which is exactly why he can be so acerbic and funny about it. In this collection… he suggests that the fabric of our cities is the greatest free entertainment available. From French provincial municipal architecture to the coincidences of Stalinist and Nazi design, Meades is consistently, cuttingly entertaining"
EDWIN HEATHCOTE, Financial Times Books of the Year

"Jonathan Meades writes with his mouth full, so to speak, and he looms out of the TV like a bailiff; but I loved his Museum Without Walls, a series of barked exhortations to live more attentively"
KEITH MILLER, TLS Books of the Year

"Jonathan Meades is a consistently amusing and provocative polemicist and this book is a rollercoaster ride, though not to be consumed all in one go… It is all richly entertaining, invigorating and provoking"
TIM RICHARDSON, Literary Review

"One of the great revelations of Mr Meades's writing is his ability not just to expose the tawdriness and cynicism of those who manage our landscape and our past, but also to find interest and beauty in what other, affording it a passing glance, would find drab and unremarkable… It is an unfortunate cliché to call any book an eye-opener, but this one unquestionably is. It forces us to think critically about the environment we live in: what works, what doesn't, what insults the eye and what elevates the mind. We will find that too much of our country is in bad taste or of no taste at all but, following the Meades method, we shall also find much that, if examined closely, brings joy"
SIMON HEFFER, Standpoint

"I pick up Jonathan Meades's new collection of essays, Museum Without Walls and I read a paragraph or three. It's the writerly equivalent of stand of the top of Kinder Scout and breathing deeply. The scope of his ideas, the force of his arguments, the sheer vitality of his sentences: these things come at you like negative ions after a storm, with the result that you soon start to feel an awful lot better – envious but revitalised too.
RACHEL COOKE, New Statesman


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  • Jonathan Meades avatar

    Jonathan Meades

    Jonathan Meades is an English original. He has spent thirty years constructing sixty films, two novels and hundreds of pieces of journalism that dissolve the barriers between high and low culture, good and bad taste, deep seriousness and knockabout comedy. His vision is as sharp and unmistakable as his image: tinted glasses, sharp suit, deadpan delivery. He peddles, as he calls it, heavy entertainment, which means he has strong opinions about almost everything. What sets Meades apart from most of the media commentariat is that his views are backed up by an astonishing depth of knowledge. Maybe because he taught himself (he went to RADA not university), his scholarship has sharpened his originality rather than blunting it. To watch or read Meades riffing on places, buildings, food, politics, or cultural history is a workout for the mind and eye. He leaves you better informed, more alert, less gullible. And don’t just take our word for it:

    One of the funniest and truest writers we have. No one understands England better than Meades.

    Meades is funnier, cleverer and sharper than anyone else on TV.
    A.A. GILL

    Meades knows which fork to pick up, but he is deeply the other thing: an educated upstart who not only doesn’t know his place, but knows far more than his allotted share about all the other places.

    If Meades was a racehorse you'd be calling for a steward's enquiry. There's something in his feed which definitely gives him the lot.

    Jonathan Meades is the best amateur chef in the world.

    When journalism is like this, journalism and literature become one.

  • Place - on no matter what scale - is one thing. Creation of place is quite another. That creation is accretive and continuous, it occurs across time.

  • Jonathan Meades has written 14 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    24th September 2012 How to be a critic

    A very upbeat interview with A.A. Gill published in yesterday's Sunday Times (23rd September 2012)

    Jonathan Meades remembers when we first met. I can’t. Even when he reminds me, I can’t remember. It was food-related, it was a long time ago, and every subsequent meeting and most conver­sations since have been food-related. But they could quite easily have been about architecture, art, society, fashion…

    3rd February 2012 Guardian Review: JM on France 2 Feb 2012

    This seemed rather positive to me, especially for the Guardian. My editor tells me Ms Mangan is a notable humourist.


    An hour of Jonathan Meades leaves me feeling like a medieval monk who has just completed his self-flagellating stint for the day. It is almost unbearably painful but, oh!, the flush of pride after such a feat of endurance and the sweet relief when it stops.

    In the final episode…

    15th August 2011 Isle of Rust - Shooting Script (Second Section)

    This is the second section of Jonathan Meades shooting script for The Isle of Rust (you can read the first section here)








    WILLOWGLEN RD, A858, (100M W OF


    Whatever wealth is generated is mostly well concealed. It is very seldom manifest in the built environment…

    7th July 2011 Christmas dinner with an excess of trimmings

    As it's nearly Christmas I thought I'd get you all in the festive spirit with some musings on the horror that is Christmas dinner.

    "All The Trimmings" is among the most dispiriting constructions in the English language. It recalls Kingsley Amis's despised "red or white?", a phrase which evokes bonhomie dissembling meanness, banality posing as blokeish largesse, coy bluster, seasonal ennui. In The…

    27th June 2011 Rural Rides

    Here's a piece - Rural Rides - from Museum without Walls in which my memories of a semi-rural childhood spent plashing around on the rivers of Wiltshire are marshalled into an attack on the paralysing British obsession with the picturesque.

    Rural Rides (2002)

    We cannot escape our earliest domestic topographies. They adhere down the years as a sort of measure. The slum is as potent in this regard…

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