T h e o r y   o f   A r c h i t e c t u r e   S e m i n a r 

 

Syracuse University_School of Architecture

103 Slocum Hall Spring 1996

Professor Osvaldo Valdes

Course Description:

Architectural theory can be specific and prescriptive as in the work of Vitruvius and Serlio where theory answers the needs of architects seeking instruction to practical tasks, or, on a more polemical level such as in Sant'Elia's Messaggio or Le Corbusier's Towards A New Architecture, it addresses social, cultural, grammatical-compositional as well as philosophical and political concerns.


Most architectural propositions are a reflection of some conceptual structure; that is, whether implicit or explicit, most works of architecture are affected by ideological or theoretical notions and cultural values. As such, we might structure a series of questions for the semester: can one readily detect the application of theory in buildings? How does theory affect the production of architecture? Is artistic theory an a priori application (prescient oracle) for the development of form, or an ex post facto justification for built work? And finally, how are ethical and aesthetic principles formulated and manifested in architecture? 

Pedagogical Objectives:
The course requires the active participation of students as it is predicated that the class identify and examine specific topics that serve as reference points during the semester. We will examine various theoretical positions throughout history and analyze them to show their philosophical and ideological intentions as well as their overall effect on architectural practice. 

Since clues to the theory of architecture may reside in texts either marginally related to or completely outside of the discipline, attention cannot be restricted to strictly architectural sources. Interpretations therefore will be drawn from the margins of architectural discourse as well as such discilines as philosophy, urban and literary theory which includes various politico-polemical works.

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

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 and 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.

We commence 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 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. As previously noted in the description to this seminar, 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, grammatical and compositional concers. The idea of theory as specifically applied to architecture raises several questions which we will address in this seminar: How and to what extent does theory affect the production of architecture? Can one readily detect the application of theory in a finished work? Is architectural theory a prescient oracle for the development of form, or an ex post facto justification for built work? Can architecture exist independently of ethical and aesthetic principles?

 

Requirements:

An objective of the seminar is to provide a broad critical framework from which to work, formulate and address issues related to architecture; its design, analysis and criticism. The seminar requires the active participation of students. We will examine various theoretical posi-tions within diverse topics as ethics, semiotics, perception, typology ane geometry, among others, and their historical evolution. We will analyze these subject-positions and, akin to an archaeological act, uncover implicit ideological intentions and their overall effect on architectural production. Since clues to and notions informing the theory of architecture may reside in texts either peripherally related to or outside of the discipline altogether, attention cannot be confined within strictly architectural boundaries. As such interpretations will be drawn from the mar-gins of architectural discourse such as philosophy, urban and critical theory as well as various politico-polemical works. Students will present the various subject-topics and formulate the preliminary framework for discussion. In addition to several analytic-design exercises throughout the semester the students will also undertake individual research projects on some aspect of architectural theory which will form the basis for a term paper. These research projects may serve not only as reference points for discussion throughout the semester but clarify the students own theoretical positions and help to formulate a personal philosophy of architecture as well.

Students will undertake individual research on some aspect of architectural theory and present their findings in class. In addition there will be a series of papers exploring various facets of the discipline.

Prerequisites for the course: All students must have completed their history requirements, or, permission of the instructor. This course is a professional elective.

Academic Rules and Regulations:
All work submitted will automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the Policies of the Bulletin on Academic Rules and Regulations of Syracuse University, 1994-1995 edition, which in part states: 
The submission of any work by a student is taken as a guarantee that the thoughts and expressions in it are the student's own except when properly credited to another. Violations  of this principle include giving or receiving aid in an exam or were otherwise prohibited, fraud, plagiarism, the falsification or forgery of any record,  or any other deceptive act in connection  with academic work.

 

Course Structure + Grading Policies:


40 % Presentation - Class Discussion.
Each seminar session will focus on a different theoretical topic. The sessions will typically begin with a preamble by the professor followed by a group discussion of the subject topic and material presented. Beginning on January 28 the sessions will be introduced by one or two students The introduction-presentation(s) should be short (25 - 30 minutes each), precise and scholarly. They should be comprehensive and set the tone for the class discussion to follow, summarizing the assigned articles is not required. Visual material may be exhibited to illustrate important or difficult points or to facilitate discussion. Please note attendance to all seminar sessions is mandatory. 

60% Term Paper:
A ten to fifteen page paper is due on the penultimate class, April 22, and it is to be based on a topic as presented in the seminar, derived from the discussions, the readings or the lectures. The paper may be related to the graphic-analytic exercise noted above. Please present a one to two page written summary of your paper and an annotated bibliography by April 1.

Questions?
If you have questions about any of the material presented in the course, assignments, grading, course policies, etc. please feel free to contact me at regular office hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday 12 to 1 PM and by appointment. E-mail: ovaldes@mailbox.syr.edu.

Lectures:

January 14......................................................
January 21......................................................

February 4......................................................
February 11....................................................
February18.....................................................
February 25....................................................

March 4...........................................................

March 11........................................................ 
March 18........................................................ 
March 25........................................................ 
April 1............................................................. 
April 8............................................................. 
April 15........................................................... 
April 22........................................................... 
April 29...........................................................

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Introduction-Theory

Ancient Greece

Aesthetics I
Semiotics
Language
Deconstruction­

The Enlightenment

Spring Break
Aesthetics II
Analysis
Metaphysics
Representation
Proportion
Structuralism
April 29 Postmodernism

Readings:

January 14 Introduction_Theory
Alan Johnson, Paul; Chapter 1; Theoretical Positions. “The Reach And Limits Of Theory.”
The Theory Of Architecture - Concepts, Themes And Practices; pp. 1-50 [Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York]
Reference:
Barthes, Roland; Writers, “Intellectuals, Teachers.” The Rustle Of Language; pp. 309-331
Barthes, Roland; “To The Seminar.” The Rustle Of Language; pp. 332-342
Suggested Reading:
Agrest, I. Diana; “The Misfortune Of Theory.”
Architecture From Without, Theoretical Framings for a Critical Practice.

January 21 Ancient Greece 
Kolb, David; “Philosophy, Architecture and Tradition.” Postmodern Sophistications.  Chapters 1-4; pp. 11-35. [University of Chicago Press, 1990]
Reference:
Plato's Republic; Five Great Dialogues: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic
[Classic Club, 1942]

February 4 Aesthetics I
Eisenman, Peter; “Aspects Of Modernism: Maison Dom-Ino, The Self-Referential Sign.”
Oppositions 1979 Winter-Spring, n.15-16, pp. 118-128
Barthes, Roland;  “The Reality Effect.” The Rustle of Language, pp. 141-148
Foucault, M.; Preface and Chapter 1, “Las Meninas” The Order of Things, pp. Xv-xxiv;
Reference:
Russell, Bertrand; The Art of Philosophizing And Other Essays. [Littlefield Adams, 1968]
Arnheim, Rudolf; "Analysis of a Symbol of Interacton." Toward a Psychology of Art p. 222-244.

 

February 11  Semiotics
Agrest, G.; Semiotics and Architecture: Ideological Consumption or Theoretical Works
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
[Princeton Architectural Press
G. Broadvbent; A Plain Man's Guide to the Theory of Signs in Architecture
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
[Princeton Architectural Press]
Jenks, Charles; The Architectural Sign Signs, Symbols And Architecture,pp. 71-118
[London and New York: John Wiley And Sons, 1980]
Barthes, Roland; "Mythology Today"; The Rustle of Language, pp. 65-68
Barthes, Roland; "Myth Today" Mythologies, pp. 109-165
Reference:
Peirce, Charles S.; The Essential Peirce : Selected Philosophical Writings
[Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1992]
Eco, U.  A Theory of Semiotics. [Bloomington : Indiana University Press]

February 18  Language
Barthes, Roland; "The Death of the Author" The Rustle of Language, pp. 49-55
Bernard Tschumi; Architecture and Limits I, II Theorizing A New Agenda For Architecture. [Princeton Architectural Press]
Barry, Peter; Beginning Theory, An Introduction To Literary And Critical Theory
[Manchester University Press, 1995] Selections
Reference:
Barry, Peter; Beginning Theory, An Introduction To Literary And Critical Theory
[Manchester University Press, 1995] Selections

February 25 Deconstruction
Bernard Tschumi; Notes Towards a Theory of Architectural Disjunction:
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
Bernard Tschumi; Architecture and Limits, III
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
Barry, Peter; Beginning Theory, An Introduction To Literary And Critical Theory
[Manchester University Press, 1995] Selections
Peter Eisenman; Architecture and the Problem of the Rhetorical Figure
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
Glusberg, J; Deconstruction, A Student's Guide,
In Journal of Architectural Theory and Criticism, pp 31-81 [Academy Editions, 1991]
Reference:
Ellis, John M; Against Deconstruction. [Princeton Architectural Press, 1989]

March 4 The Enlightment
Alan Johnson, Paul; Architecture Expression, Chapter 10, Part A

The Theory Of Architecture - Concepts, Themes And Practices

[Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York]
Bernard Tschumi; “The Pleasure of Architecture.”
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
[Princeton Architectural Press.
"Questions For Colin Rowe, How Do You Define Architecture?" ANY Magazine, © 1994
Barthes, Roland; Mythologies, The New Citroën Palz, Veronica; Panic Fashion.

Reference:
*Scruton, Roger; The Aesthetics of Architecture. [Princeton Architectrual Press]
*Harries, Karsten; Presentation And Re-Presentation In Architecture.

March 11 No Classes 3-10 To 3-14 - Spring Break

 

March 18 Aesthetics II
Alan Johnson, Paul;  Architecture Expression, Chapter 10, Part B: Conventions of Communication
The Theory Of Architecture - Concepts, Themes And Practices.

[Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York]
Peter Eisenman; Vision's Unfolding: Architecture in the Age of Electronic Media
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
[Princeton Architectural Press]

March 25 Analysis
Alan Johnson, Paul; The Theory Of Architecture - Concepts, Themes And Practices
Overview and Parts A + B
Political and Ethical Agendas; Chapter 8
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]
[Princeton Architectural Press]
Reference:
Krukowski, Lucian; Art And Ethics In Kant, Hegel And Schopenauer
VIA No 10, © 1990, University of Pennsylvania
Aristotle; The Ethics Of Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics Translated
by J.A.K. Jackson. London: Penguin Books, 1955

April 1 Metaphysics
Alan Johnson, Paul; The Theory Of Architecture - Concepts, Themes And Practices
Governing Concetps In Architecture, Chapter 8
[Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York]
A Colquhoun; Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory Three Kinds of Historicism
Peter Eisenman. The End of the Classical: The end of the Beginning the End of the End
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]

April 8 Representation
Agrest, Diana; “Framework For A Discourse On Representation.”

Archtiecture From Without; pp156-170
Agrest, Diana; “Notes On Film and Architecture.”
Archtiecture From Without; pp128-137

Vidler, Anthony; “The Explosion Of Space: Architecture And The Filmic Imaginary.”
Assemblage, 21
Schumacher, Thomas; “Deep Space - Shallow Space.” The Architectural Review

 

April 15  Proportion
Alan Johnson, Paul; The Theory Of Architecture - Concepts, Themes And Practices
Relationships In Architecture, Chapter 9; part Overview and 'Measuring Architecture'
Hambridge, Jay;The Elements Of Dynamic Symmetry

Preface to and including lesson #10
Arnheim, Rudolf; Toward A Psychology Of Art, Collected Essays. pp. 102-119
[University of California, Berkeley; © 1966]
Reference:
Doxiadis, K.A.; Architectural Space in Ancient Greece

The Discovery Of The Ancient Greek System Of Architectural Spacing
Investigation Documentation Conclusion: Development Of The Ten Part System 
[Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1972]
Le Corbusier; The Modulor [Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass; © 1954]

 

April 22  Structuralism­
Vattimo, Gianni; The End of Modernity. Translator's Introduction.

"The Structure of Artistic Revolutions"
Peter Eisenman; Post Functionalism. Princeton Architectural Press]
Greenberg, Clement; The Notion of Postmodern
Reference:
Kuhn, Thomas S; The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

April 29 Postmodernism
Contemporary Definitions of the Sublime; Chapter 10
Theorizing Architecture; An Anthology Of Architectural Theory [Nesbitt, Editor]

Professor Osvaldo Valdes