Graduate Architecture

Higgins Hall, 1st Floor

Professor Osvaldo Valdes; mailto:ov@earthlink.net
718 399 4305    f 718 399 4332  info@pratt.edu

Fall Term, 2001

Catalogue Code:  Architecture 601 A, 

Graduate Seminar


Note:

This course is required for first semester graduate architecture students

Course Location: Higgins Hall North, Room 302; Thursday 10:30a to 1:30p; Credits: 2

Prerequites: All students must have completed their art and architecture history requirements, or by permission of the instructor.

Date of Syllabus: 090101

T h e o r y   o f   A r c h i t e c t u r a l   P r o p o r t I o n

p r a t t   I n s t I t u t e       g r a d  u a t e   s e m I n a r   6 0 1 - A       o s v a l d o   v a l d e s

Course Description:

An objective of this seminar is to provide students with a critical framework from which to formulate, analyze and address concepts related not only to proportion, but to the broader region of architectural analysis and design.  We will examine various historical and theoretical positions within the field of proportion including such topics as dynamic symmetry (Hambidge) and irrational number, perception and representation, ‘sacred’ geometry and modern systems of proportion, among others, and their historical evolution.  We will analyze these positions and, akin to an archaeological act, uncover implicit political and ideological intentions and their overall effect on architectural production.

The student will develop an individual research project to form the basis for a series of (final) speculations.  These may result in a number of fundamental propositions about number, system(s) for the production of shape, didactic or experimental objects, such as proportion ‘cabinets,’ industrial packing systems, etc. or, as in the work of Le Corbusier, develop a comprehensive system similar to the Modulor for the generation of form in architecture and/or industry. The speculation will be proposed with a view towards exhibits and publications (book, article, www) and with a mind towards the market place so that the acquisition of design patent(s) should not be overlooked.

Theory:
Architecture, for the most part, may only be produced by a creative, intellectual dialectic between imagination and reason. Judgments contained within the broad limits of theory are a fundamental part of the architectural creative process. It is a fundamental premise of this course that most architectural propositions are, whether textual or formal, a reflection of some overriding social, political, practical or aesthetic concern and as such are, whether implicit or explicit, affected (to some extent) by theoretical concerns that are informed by a broad spectrum of philosophical-ideological assumptions and cultural values.

We commence this seminar by positing architectural theory as an element that unifies the opposing worlds of external conditions [‘reality’], the object world in Martin Heidegger’s terms, assumed to be an a-priori condition and ultimately knowable, and its opposite, the landscape of reflection, the internal world of thought. This latter realm encompasses the imagination and the province of interpretation. Architectural theory can be highly specific and prescriptive as well as descriptive and polemical.  In the former condition theory specifically answers the requirements of architects seeking instruction to practical tasks and as such theory locates architecture at the level of craft or technique. On the other hand, in more polemical instances, theory is used as a lens to analyze, critique and/or address social, cultural and  grammatical-compositional endeavors.

The term theory as applied to architecture was originally the accepted translation of the Latin term ratiocinatio  as used by the Roman architect-engineer Vitruvius to differentiate intellectual from practical knowledge as applied to architectural production. The term however has come to suggest the basis for judging the conceptual and or cultural-ideological com-ponent of architectural design and/or buildings. A number of interpretations have been given to the term architectural theory. Before 1750 most treatises or pub-lished lectures on architecture could be described as textbooks on the subject. Works that may be included in this category are Sebastiano Serlio’s The Five Books of Architecture, Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture and Leon Battista Alberti’s On the Art of Building in Ten Books, among others. After the cultural and technical developments associated with the Industrial Revolution the amount of architectural knowl-edge produced by academic research increased to a level where a complete synthesis became difficult, if not  impossible, to contain within any single publication. In this seminar we will critically examine the practice of architecture through a specific aspect of architectural theory, the lens of geometry and number or, more specifically, the theory of proportion.

Proportion:
As it pertains to architecture, proportion may be a precise study that orders entire buildings, or, on a more limited basis, a system used to design facades, entrances or individual rooms.   In the work of Vitruvius, Palladio and Le Corbusier, for example, proportion addresses the requirement of architects for a rational system of dimensional grammar.  On a mystical plane, as in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Khan, proportion addresses transcendental aesthetic-compositional matters.

Codified by Euclid in Books II, V and VI the idea of proportion, as a definitive system of ‘harmonic order,’ may be traced to Plato’s cosmogeny as put forth in the Timaeus, a work of considerable influence in the West for over 2000 years. According to Bertrand Russel, the place occupied by Socrates in the earlier dialogues in the Timaeus is taken by a Pythagorean, and the doctrines of that school are in the main adopted, including the view that number and geometry is the explanation of the world.  In the Greek universe, geometry and objectivity are the vehicles to abolish man’s alienation with the invisible and mysterious universal space.  As such, the combination of Platonic Metaphysics and Pythgorean geometry characterize religious philosophy and art and architecture during the Greek period, through the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance and, in modern times, is reflected in the philosophy of Kant and Hegel.

The idea of proportion as specifically applied to architecture raises several questions which we will address in this seminar: Is proportion a prescient oracle for the development of form, or an ex post facto justification for built work?  How does, and to what extent, proportion affect the appearance of architecture?  What is its relationship to structure?  Can one readily detect the application of proportions in buildings?  How are transcendental and aesthetic principles formulated through number manifested in architecture?  Can (should) new systems of proportion be formulated?

Pedagogical Objectives :      

An objective of this seminar is to provide students with a critical framework from which to formulate, analyze and address concepts related to proportion as well as to the broader region of architectural analysis and design.  We will examine various historical and theoretical positions within the field of proportion including such topics as dynamic symmetry (Hambidge) and irrational number, perception and representation, and syntax and ‘sacred’ geometry, among others, and their historical evolution.  We will analyze these positions and, akin to an archaeological act, uncover implicit political and ideological intentions and their overall effect on architectural production.


Unfortunately, there are remarkably few books on architectural proportion that attempt a thorough view of the field and none, to my knowledge, that review its concepts, themes and practices from the various points of view (philosophical, practical, geometric, arithmetic, pshycological, etc.) necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the discipline. In addition, since clues to the theory of proportion may reside in texts either marginally related to, or outside of the discipline of, architecture, attention cannot be restricted to strictly architectural sources.  Interpretations then will also be drawn from the margins of architectural discourse; that is, philosophy (Plato, Russel), urban theory and various politico-polemical works (Popper).

Requirements:
The seminar has three components:

a) Analytic Excercises.b) Group Discussion-Presentation.
c) Individual Research Projects - Speculations

Analytic Excercises:
There will be two (or three) analytic exercises of existing buildings (or objects) during the semester. The building-objects will be presented (offered for sac-rifice as the methodological analysis and/or dissection re-quested can only guarantee a demise) for a systematic inquiry into their phenomenal and transphenomenal characteristics.  The discoveries and/or interpretation(s) of new concepts and perceptions will be advanced as revisions, as a challenge, to ac-cepted conclusions, implicit of explicit, of doctrines and convictions (dogma) as-sociated with the buildings’ overall historic parameters

Presentation:
The student will select a proportion topic for class presentation on the week of September 27, (this may form part of the research project, and the subsequent and final ‘speculation’).  Class presentation by individual students will begin on October 18.  These presentations will serve not only as a reference point for dialogue in the class but delineate the student’s own theoretical position(s) and help to formulate and/or develop not only the semester research project, (third component) but a personal philosophy of architecture as well. The topics selected here may review accepted assumptions of proportion as well as raise a series of questions for furthe investigation.

 

Research - Speculations:

In the third component of the seminar, the student will select a project on October 27th for research which will culminate in a speculation about some aspect of proportion theory.   Minimally, during this phase, the student should be able to evaluate theoretical positions and show their practical, philosophical intent and overall effect on architectural practice.  The student must impart rigor, importance and significance to his/her critical research.  The project must furnish evidence of original thought.

The student will develop the individual research project to  form the basis for a series of (final) speculations.  These may result  in a number of (original) fundamental propositions about number, system(s)  for the production of shape, didactic or experimental objects, such as proportion  ‘cabinets,’ industrial packing systems, etc. or, as in the work  of Le Corbusier, develop a comprehensive system similar to the Modulor for  the generation of form in architecture and/or industry.  It is imperative  that the research project be complete, scholarly and professional enough to include the possibility for publication.  In some instances, the research project may take the form of a research-term paper.  The speculation  must be proposed with a view towards exhibits and publications (book, article,  www) and with a mind towards the market place so that the acquisition of design  patent(s) should not be overlooked.

Academic Rules and Regulations:
All work submitted will automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the ‘Pratt Policies’ found at http://www.pratt.edu/policies/index.html

Course Structure + Grade % Distribution:

15 % - Class Discussion - Presentation   
Each seminar session will focus on a topic on architectural proportion.

On September 27, each student will select a topic for presentation. 
Beginning on October 11 the session-topic will begin with a preamble by the professor followed by a    
(student) presentation and a group discussion will be introduced by one or more students. The presentation(s) should be 25-30 minutes, precise, scholarly and  comprehensive and set the tone    
for the class discussion to follow.


Visual material should be exhibited to facilitate discussion.
Polemics, original thought and discovery gets extra points.

Please note attendance to all workshop sessions is mandatory.

25% - Analysis 
There will be various analytic group exercises-projects throughout the semester.

Architecture

Course for Non Majors
Syracuse University
Fall 1994

Graduate Theory Seminar 
Syracuse University
Fall 1996, 1997

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