This seminar critically explores the canonical texts and theories that have influenced the analysis and the production of architecture in the west since the Renaissance. The focus of our exploration will be the expressive potential of architecture and the modalities of the realization of this potential within that broader, multifaceted frame of reference which at once instigates and controls the production of architecture: culture. The premise of this exploration is that architecture is a motivated production whose motivation, historically, if not per force, exceeds the overt use-value of the building. It is this excess - inseparable from the conception and the production of architecture - as well as its source and its destination that will be central themes in the course of our investigation.
Assuming the futility, if not the impossibility, of engaging the questions of architectural form, space, and composition - in perpetual reference to a viewing subject - outside the multifaceted frame of their production, and assuming that every architectural production is an act of delimitation and closure, we will engage and examine architecture within two interrelated frames of reference, i.e., two modes of selection and delimitation: The Social/Cultural frame of reference, and the theoretical/aesthetic frame of reference.
Since it is within the social/cultural frame of reference that architectural products assume the role of signifying figures, i.e., become “meaningful,” we will begin our investigation here. We will discuss the specifics of architectural form, space, and composition, as well as the particular processes through which the signifying potential of architecture is realized. We will also discuss how and why architectural products, as “meaningful” figures, engage and become an important part of a broader cultural discourse.
Since it is within the theoretical/aesthetic frame of reference that architectural products, as signifying figures, assume the “aura” of art, i.e., an aesthetic dimension, and as such a distinct, if not peculiar, validity and authority, we will next extend our investigation into this particular realm of production. We will address issues of presentation and representation, meaning and signification, imitation and invention, beauty and ornamentation, thinking and making, all in reference to the broader question of the place and role of theory in the production of architecture, and theory’s capacity to give the particular figures of culture the guise of universal validity as natural figures.
The course objectives are twofold. Of equal importance are the exploration of the ideological/ theoretical frame-work of architectural form production, and the acquisition and development of analytical skills essential to the critical engagement of this frame-work.
This course will meet twice a week for an hour-fifteen minute seminar, where we will explore specific issues and open to discussion and debate specific topics that incorporate and encompass the weekly reading assignments. You are expected to have completed the reading assignment for each week before the seminar session.
Performance in class is evaluated on the bases of individual command of course material and the assigned readings as evidenced by active participation and contribution to class discussions. You are expected to come to the seminar with specific questions and comments on the assigned readings. In addition to completing the assigned readings, each week you will be assigned one or more questions related to the readings and asked to write a short analytical essay responding to the question(s). The weekly essays are not meant to be a summation of the assigned readings. Rather, they are intended to be an analytical and reflective response to the question(s) posed based on the assigned readings. Each essay will be due before the start of the seminar on Mondays. The completion and on time submission of the essays and active participation and contribution to seminar discussions will weigh equally in the determination of the final grade for the course.
I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. My office is in the CU Building, room 515.
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Architecture, In THEORY
I. Architecture In Its Cultural Context
Week 1, August 20
Week 2, August 27
Form and Content/Context
Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (New York: 1959), pp.6-17, 65-78, 101-126.
Edmund Leach, Claude Lévi-Strauss (New York: 1974) Oysters, Smoked Salmon, and Stilton Cheese, pp. 15-33.
Allen Colquone, Essays in Architectural Criticism (Cambridge: 1981), Form and Figure, pp.190-202.
Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture (New York: 1960), Introduction, pp.5-17.
Weeks 3, September 3
Form and Culture
Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, (New York: 1973), The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man, pp.33-54
Judith Butler, The Judith Butler Reader, Sara Salih Ed. (Malden: 2004), Imitation and Gender Insubordination, pp.119-137
Amir H. Ameri, The Architecture of the Illusive Distance, (New York: 2016). Introduction, pp.1-9
Optional: Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, (Chicago:1982), Signature Event Context, pp.307-30
II. Architecture In Its Theoretical Context
Week 4 & 5, September 10 - 17
Architecture, Theory, Practice: Writing and Building
Douglas Spencer, The Architecture of Neoliberalism (London: 2016), Architectural Theory: From May 68 to the ‘Real’ of the Market, pp. 47-72
Paul DeMan, The Resistance To Theory, (Minneapolis: 1986), pp.3-20
Michel Foucault, What is an author?, in Textual Strategies, (Ithaca: 1979), pp. 141-160
Leon Battista Alberti, On The Art Of Building In Ten Books, (Cambridge: 1988), pp.2-9, 23-26, 33-40
Optional: Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, (Stanford: 1995), pp. 285-312
Week 6, September 24
The Art of Building: The Architecture of Nature and the Building of Culture
Leon Battista Alberti, On The Art Of Building In Ten Books, (Cambridge: 1988), pp.92-100, 117-128, 145-153
Mark Wigley, Untitled: The Housing of Gender, in Sexuality & Space, (New York: 1992), pp.327-389
Jacques Derrida, Economimesis, Diacritics, vol. 11, 1981, pp.3-25
Optional: Colin Row, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays, (Cambridge: 1976), The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, pp.1-27
Weeks 7 & 8, October 1 - 8
Building Aesthetics: Architecture, Beauty, Ornamentation
Leon Battista Alberti, On The Art Of Building In Ten Books, (Cambridge: 1988), pp.154-164, 183-195, 291-313
Robin Evans, Translations from drawing to building, (Cambridge: 1997), Not For Wrapping Purposes, pp.68-78
Beatriz Colomina, On Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffman: Architecture in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 9H, no. 6, (New York: 1983), pp.52-58
Weeks 9 & 10, October 15 - 22
Form, Purpose, Character, and Type: Architecture and/as Representation
Marc-Antoine Laugier, An Essay on Architecture, (Los Angeles: 1977), pp.1-27, 61-99, 147-158
Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, (Baltimore: 1976), That Dangerous Supplement, pp.141-164
Etienne-Louis Boullée, Architecture, Essay on Art, in Boullée & Visionary Architecture, (New York: 1976), pp.82-90, 111-12
J. N. Durand, Summary of Lectures on Architecture, in A Documentary History of Art, vol. 3, (New Haven: 1986), pp.200-212
Weeks 11 & 12, October 29 - November 5
Architecture and Mimesis: Innovation, Imitation, and Reproduction
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, (New York: 1979), pp.9-14, 34-69, 142-167
Frank Llyod Wright, In The Cause of Architecture, (New York: 1975), pp.53-63, 121-137
Diane Ghirardo, Past or Post Modern in Architectural Fashion, Telos, no. 62, 1985, pp.187-196
Optional: Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, (New York: 1978), The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, pp. 217-252
Alberto Perez-Gomez, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Scienc, (Cambridge: 1983), pp. 298-314, 323-6
Week 13, November 12
Architecture, Form, and Ornamentation: The Formation and De-Formation of Form
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, (New York: 1979), pp.100-141
Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, (Chicago: 1987), pp.37-82
Louis H. Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings, (New York: 1979),Ornament in Architecture, pp.187-190
Week 15, November 19
Week 14, November 26
Form, Function, and Re/Presentation: Substance and Image in Space and Time
Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, (New York: 1960), pp.7-24, 65-138
Beatriz Colomina, The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism, in Space and Sexuality, (Princeton: 1992), pp.73-128
Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, (Cambridge, 1972), pp.87-163
Peter Eisenman, The Futility Of Objects, Harvard Architectural Review, no. 3, 1984, pp.65-81
Week 16, December 3
Architecture and the Crisis of Signification: The Eternal Return
Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture, (New York: 1988), pp.7-20
Kenneth Frampton, Towards a Critical Regionalisms: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance, in 'The Anti-Aesthetic,' (Seattle, 1983), pp.16-30
Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting, Notes around the Doppler Effect and Other Moods of Modernism, in The New Architectural Pragmatism, William S. Saunders, Editor, (Minneapolis: 2007), pp.22-33
George Baird, "Criticality" and Its Discontents,in The New Architectural Pragmatism, William S. Saunders, Editor, (Minneapolis: 2007), pp.136-149
Optional: Reinhold Martin, Critical of What? Toward a Utopian Realism, in The New Architectural Pragmatism, William S. Saunders, Editor, (Minneapolis: 2007), pp. 150-161.
Questions for Assigned Readings
Ferdinand de Saussure
What is language?
What is a sign?
What is the difference between language and speech? Architecture and building?
What is essential to language?
What is semiology?
Why are signs arbitrary? What makes them arbitrary?
Why are signs both mutable and immutable?
Is there anything that is not language?
How and “why can a street be completely rebuilt and still be the same?”
Is there, can there be thought without language?
In what sense can language “be compared with a sheet of paper”?
Why does the combination of thought and sound produce “a form, not a substance”?
What is linguistic value? What makes the signifier and the signified exchangeable?
Why is the linguistic value “purely negative and differential”?
What is meant by “in language there are only differences without positive terms”? What are the ramifications?
What is the difference between language and the linguistic system?
What is Structuralism?
How does the traffic light come to be? What is the connection between stop and go and red and green, i.e., what is the equivalency between the two? In other words, what makes them exchangeable?
Is there a correlation between how the human brain perceives/constructs the color spectrum and how it perceives/constructs space/architecture?
What are the universals and particulars of human culture?
According to Lévi-Struass, why do we cook? By analogy - should there be one, why do we build?
Does cooking and architecture have anything in common?
Can you identify a system in architecture similar to the structural system Lévi-Struass indentifies in cooking?
What is the difference between form and figure as Colquhoun defines them?
Can a thing or anything have a natural meaning? No meaning at all?
What are the genesis of form and figure?
Are form and figure mutually exclusive? Why?
What do form and figure have in common?
What would Saussure say of the distinction between form and figure?
What should we make of a tradition that seemingly organizes itself around two opposing theories of signification?
What is the difference between theory and practice in Vitruvius’ perspective?
Does Vitruvius’ theory of architecture assume a linguistic theory?
What are the fundamental principles of Architecture?
Of Durability, Convenience and Beauty, why is the last a requirement?
What is – should be – the relationship between architecture and beauty?
What is Geertz view of human nature and its link to or dependence on culture?
What is the "stratigraphic" conception?
What is Geertz’ critique of the consensus gentium approach?
In what sense are humans “incomplete?”
What does Geertz mean by “culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns, but as a set of control mechanisms?” What is controlled and how?
Why is human a question of “becoming” rather than being?
In what sense are humans “cultural artifacts?”
What are the ramifications of the definition of culture as “a set of symbolic devices for controlling behavior,” for architecture?
Why “outness can only produce a new opacity?”
What does it mean to play “being”?
In what sense is the “I” dependent on and the effect of repetition?
What is the difference between sex and gender?
In what sense is gender a choice, i.e., something one becomes rather than something one is?
What does Butler mean by “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original?”
What does Butler mean by “heterosexuality must be understood as a compulsive and compulsory repetition that can only produce the effect of its own originality?”
In what sense is the original an imitation?
In what sense is gender performative?
What does Butler mean by “there is no performer prior to the performed?”
In what way is Butler’s discourse related to Saussure/Levi-Strauss/Geertz/Barthes?
What are the goals and the objectives of Theory?
What is the relationship between theory and criticism?
What is the relationship between aesthetics and meaning?
What have been the consequences of Structural Linguistics for literature and art studies?
What does De Man mean by Ideology being the confusion of linguistics with natural reality?
What does De Man mean by “Those who reproach literary [architectural] theory for being oblivious to social and historical (that is to say ideological) reality are merely stating their fear at having their own ideological mystifications exposed by the tool they are trying to discredit?”
As De Man asks, what is it about literary [architectural] theory that is so threatening that it provokes such strong resistances and attacks?
Why may “resistance” be “a built-in constituent,” i.e., inherent in the theoretical enterprise itself?
What are the difficulties contingent on theory?
In what sense is “resistance to theory … a resistance to the use of language about language?”
In what sense is “resistance to theory … a resistance to reading?”
What does De Man mean by “nothing can overcome the resistance to theory since theory is itself this resistance?”
Why is theory indispensable and impossible?
In what sense is the “author” a historical construct?
In what sense is the author’s name not just a proper name?
In what sense is “author” a classificatory function?
Why do private letters not have authors?
What does Foucault mean by “author-function?”
What are the different characteristics of “author-function?”
What does Foucault mean by “the author is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning?”
In what way does the author “function in exactly the opposite fashion” we are “accustomed to presenting her/im?
What does Foucault mean by author being “the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning?”
Alberti - 1
What is the significance/consequences of Alberti’s distinction between the architect and the carpenter?
What is the difference between the two according to Alberti?
Why does Alberti distinguish between Lineaments (design) and matter?
What is the significance/consequences of Alberti’s analogy between architecture and body: mind and matter, architect and workman?
What is the significance/consequences of Alberti’s assumption/proposition that lineament (design) is independent of matter absolutely?
Why does Alberti feel compelled to give an account of the origin of architecture?
What is the significance/consequences of assuming the determination of “right” or “wrong” to be a matter of natural instinct?
If “it is quite possible to project whole forms in the mind without any recourse to the material,” why does Alberti require the use of “not only drawings and sketches but also models of wood or any other material” to tell what is right or wrong?
Why does Alberti condemn the use “accurately finished, refined, and highly decorated” models?
What is the place and role of beauty in architecture?
Alberti - 2
What is the place and role of aesthetics in Alberti’s text?
What is Alberti’s definition of beauty?
What is the bases/mechanism of aesthetic judgment according to Alberti?
Why does Alberti insist on architecture imitating nature?
What is the significance and the perceived necessity of this imitation?
What does Alberti mean by imitation?
What is the difference between judgment and opinion for Alberti?
Why is this distinction essential to his theory?
What is Alberti’s definition of the ugly?
What/who is the ugly’s progenitor?
What constitutes the beautiful?
What is ornament?
What is the role of ornament?
What is its role vis a vis the beautiful and/or the ugly?
Why is ornament necessary?
What are the ramifications of this necessity?
What is the relationship between ornament and theory in Alberti’s text?
What is the relationship between art, mimesis, nature and economy in Kant’s theory of art?
What are the similarities and differences between Alberti and Kant’s position on creation/production, art/craft?
In what sense does Kant condemn mimesis?
In what form does he valorize it?
Why does Kant try to locate art outside of restricted economy (exchange)?
What is for Kant the proper relationship between art and nature?
Why is poetry the highest form of art according to Kant?
Why is eye the privileged sense?
What is disgust?
What is disgusting?
What is the difference between the ugly and the disgusting?
What is the difference between Alberti and Kant’s ugly?
What is theoretically indigestible, or else what is that theory cannot digest?
What is Evans’ problem with Eisenman’s writing?
Is Evans confusing writing in the broader sense (representation) with writing in the literal sense?
What is the difference?
In what way does Evans misrepresent Levi-Struass, Barthes, Saussure and Derrida’s positions/discussions of language?
What would be his motivation in this distortion?
What theory of mimesis and language does Evans’ critique of Eisenman’s work assume?
What is the wrong relationship between writing and architecture (“words and things”) according to Evans?
What is the right relationship between writing and architecture (“words and things”) according to Evans?
What is Laugier’s justification for writing?
What is his critique of his predecessors (including and specifically Alberti)?
What assumptions are these critiques based on?
What does Laugier have in common with his predecessors?
What disgusts Laugier? Why?
What is the ugly for Laugier and why does it not disgust him?
Who begets the ugly?
What is Laugier’s view of history?
How does it relate to his view of architecture?
What does Laugier mean by “in all things there is only one way of doing it well”?
How does he justify it?
What are the ramifications of this position?
What is the critical value/instrumentality of the Rustic Hut?
In what sense is the Rustic Hut the embodiment of all that is perfect in architecture?
What aspect(s) of the Rustic Hut constitute its perfection?
When Laugier proposes to imitate nature, i.e., the rustic hut, what does he propose to imitate?
What is Laugier’s definition of the beautiful?
What is the place and role of invention in Laugier’s theory?
What exactly is wrong with engaged columns, pilasters, arches, broken pediments, and every other supplement that Laugier condemns and forbids?
What is the theoretical necessity behind these exclusions?
Why is imperfection not only acceptable, but necessary in some buildings, e.g., house of the poor?
How is beauty achieved in buildings that do not use the Orders?
What are the operating principles here?
What does Laugier’s understand by proportions, i.e., how is his understanding different from Alberti’s?
What does Laugier mean by “bienseance”?
How does it fit into his theory?
In what sense is Laugier’s beauty conditional?
What is the role of ornament in Laugier’s aesthetic theory? Where does it fit?
What is a judicious use of ornament?
What does Derrida mean by “differance”?
Why does Rousseau condemn writing?
What is the supplement?
What are the two significations of the supplement?
What makes supplementation/substitution possible?
What danger does the supplement pose Rousseau, i.e., why is supplement dangerous?
In what sense does supplement constitute a never-ending chain?
What isn’t supplemental?
What does Derrida mean by: “There is nothing outside of the text”
What does Derrida mean by: “what opens meaning and language is writing as the disappearance of natural presence.”
Ruskin - 1
What is Ruskin’s justification for writing?
What are his objectives?
What is Ruskin’s definition of Architecture?
What are the similarities and differences between Ruskin, Alberti and Laugier’s definition of Architecture?
What is the difference between Architecture and building for Ruskin?
What are the motivations behind and critical ramifications of this distinction?
What is Ruskin’s definition of Falsehood?
What is the relationship between truth and beauty for Ruskin?
What are architectural falsehoods?
What are the differences between Ruskin and Laugier on the question of support?
Why does Ruskin prohibit the use of iron? On what critical grounds?
What is the right and wrong use of painting in architecture for Ruskin? On what ground?
What happens to Ruskin on the steps of the British museum?
What brought about the fall of the “great dynasty of medieval architecture”? Why?
Why does Ruskin wish “that nothing should glitter that was not gold?” What are the theoretical ramifications of this wish?
Why does Ruskin condemn the use of “cast or machine-made ornaments?” On what theoretical ground(s)?
What is a living architecture?
Why the question of Life?
How and why is it “possible, and even usual, for men to sink into machines themselves, so that even hand-work has all the characteristics of mechanism?”
What is the difference between the true and the false life?
What is Ruskin’s stance on imitation?
What is vital imitation? What are the theoretical assumptions here?
What are the signs of life in architecture?
What are the differences between Power and Beauty for Ruskin?
What is the difference between “gathering or governing”?
What is Ruskin’s stance on invention?
What does Wright mean by Nature?
How is his Nature different or the same as his predecessors?
What is Organic Architecture?
In what sense “decoration is dangerous?”
What is Wright definition of and position on the question of style?
What is Wright issue with photographs?
What is Wright position on “the machine?”
What is Wright’s view of history (the past)?
What is Wright’s issue with the “movement” and the “disciples, neophytes, and quacks?”
What is the difference between an architecture that “develops from within outward” and “one that is applied from without?”
Why does imitation “endanger the cause, weaken the efficiency of genuine work,” etc.?
What is lost to or else exposed by imitation?
What is the difference between Wright and Ruskin’s position on “the machine,” i.e., reproduction?
What is Wright’s critique of the contemporary architecture then?
What is dead architecture for Wright?
What is living architecture for him?
How does architecture assume life?
What is the difference between machine reproduction and the reproduction of “disciples, neophytes, and quacks?”
What is, if any, the difference between good and bad reproduction?
Why the preoccupation with reproduction?
What is fashion? What is its derogatory value?
What is the malaise of “Stylistic Post Modernism?”
What is “Theoretical Post Modernism?”
What do “Theoretical” and “Stylistic Post Modernism” have in common?
What are the problems with the “recent trend in architectural theory to raid contemporary philosophical and literary theories?”
What are the consequences of this raid?
What does architecture lose to the “imposition” of the “borrowed finery of another discipline?”
What is good borrowing and what is bad borrowing?
Ruskin - 2
What is Ruskin’s definition of the beautiful?
What is the source of beauty?
What is Ruskin’s definition of ornament?
What is the relationship between ornament and beauty for Ruskin?
Why does Ruskin believe that to determine “what is or is not ornament” is a matter of “very essential importance?”
What is a beautiful ornament?
What is an ugly ornament?
What is a “false” ornament?
Why are letters “frightful?”
What threat do they pose?
What is the problem with ribbands and scrolls?
What threat do they pose?
What elevates drapery to the status of ornament?
What is the place of ornament?
What is the consequence of misplacing ornament?
Why do ornaments, once placed out of place, “vulgarize their own forms” and thereafter “we shall never, in consequence,” be able to “enjoy any more?”
What is the “danger” of “perfection” in ornamentation, i.e., why does architecture “delights in abstraction and fears to complete her forms?”
Why can’t “a perfect piece of painting or sculpture” be an “architectural ornament?”
How and why can architecture become a “mere framework for the setting of delicate sculpture?”
What is the difference between the frame and the ornament?
How either position is assumed and/or exchanged?
What are the ramifications of this possibility?
If architecture can do without ornament, why ornament?
What is the role of an ornament that architecture can do without?
What is parergon?
What is its relationship to the ergon?
What does Derrida mean by “there is frame(ing), but the frame does not exit?”