David John Watkin, FRIBA FSA (7 April 1941 - 30 August 2018) was a British architectural historian. He was an emeritus fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and professor emeritus of History of Architecture in the Department of History of Art at the University of Cambridge. He also taught at the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture.
Watkin's main research interest was neoclassical architecture, particularly from the 18th century to the present day, and he published widely on that topic. He also published on general topics including A History of Western Architecture (4th ed. 2005) and English Architecture: A Concise History (2nd ed. 2001), as well as more specialised monographs on architects. He was an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was vice-chairman of the Georgian Group, and was a member of the Historic Buildings Council and its successor bodies in English Heritage from 1980 to 1995.
He was born in Salisbury, the son of Thomas Watkin, a director of a builders' merchants, and his wife Vera. He was brought up in Farnham, and educated Farnham Grammar School. He entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was an exhibitioner, and in Part I of the Tripos read English.
Watkin then took a first in Part II of the Fine Arts Tripos. He went on to write a Ph.D. under Nikolaus Pevsner on Thomas Hope, which was published in 1968 as Thomas Hope and the Neo-Classical Idea, 1769-1831.
Watkin spent his career at Cambridge. He was Librarian of the Fine Arts Faculty from 1967 to 1972, University Lecturer in the History of Art between 1972 and 1993, and Reader in the History of Architecture between 1993 and 2001. He was head of the Department of History of Art from 1989 to 1992 and from 2006 to 2007.
In a lecture of 1968, Watkin began to develop a critique of modernism, in an attack on Pevsner, his research supervisor. His views came to wider attention with his book Morality and Architecture: The Development of a Theme in Architectural History and Theory from the Gothic Revival to the Modern Movement (1977); it was re-published in expanded form as Morality and Architecture Revisited (2001). A polemical work, it identified a context for Pevsner of French and British authors using deterministic arguments. Pevsner was defended in a review of Morality and Architecture by Reyner Banham, another pupil, who called it "offensive".
Among the contemporary architects Watkin championed were John Simpson and Quinlan Terry, as well as theorist Leon Krier. In his book on Terry, Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry (2006) Watkin was forthright: "The modernism with which Quinlan Terry has had to battle is, like the Taliban, a puritanical religion."