Term 1 lectures and seminars focus on the philosophy and writing of history and the ways in which constructs of the past relate to architectural and visual practices. Modernity is interrogated through a re-reading of histories of modernism and reappraisal of critique, criticism and the modern field of aesthetics. In parallel, different approaches to writing are explored so that students develop their own writing voice.

Readings of Modernity, Marina Lathouri

This seminar series examines the role, which different modes of historical and architectural writing manifesto, historical narrative, canon, formal analysis, travelogue, critical essay and theoretical speculation, played in the construction of the numerous histories of modern architecture and the city.
The course interrogates an identifiably modernist vocabulary and discourse that was carefully crafted and propagated to express specific conceptual and visual organisations of the building, the city, the spatial and the social, but came to be dismantled in the years immediately prior to 1968. Formal and functional considerations, economic and ideological constraints, social ideals and political upheavals, material technologies and cultural products are discussed while reading the texts. Their discrete languages project ways of thinking the production of the built and evoke aesthetic norms, patterns of use and social topographies.
The ways in which social and political aspirations become effective arguments in the production of narratives of architectural and urban modernity and their interaction with visual and material practices will be central to the discussions.

Photography and Modern Architecture, Tim Benton

The aim of the course is to deepen the students’ understanding of the role of photography in shaping the development of modern architecture. A central question will be: ‘When did architects start designing for the photograph and not for the perspective rendering or line drawing?’ A contingent aim is to understand how architectural photographs are in part, determined by the buildings themselves and the cameras and techniques available to the photographer.
The main focus is the inter-war period, but there will be some excursions into the periods before and after. The course also includes a practical element; to understand how cameras worked at different periods and the limitations they imposed. We will investigate how architectural photographs are constrained by architectural spaces, available viewpoints, obstructions, distractions, and light sources.
We will also try to determine when architects think specifically about the photographic publication of their work during the design stage.
The course will cover a range of genres, from amateur snaps taken by well-known architects, to the work of professional architectural photographers, including the work of ‘art’ photographers such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Lucien Hervé. We will also make some comparisons with film. There will be case studies on the replacement of woodcuts and watercolour renderings by photographs in the architectural journals, on Le Corbusier’s photography and his use of professional photographs, on the ‘New Photography’ and architecture in the 1920s, on Lucien Hervé and on post-war American photographers on the West coast.

Writing Objects and Non-Objects, Georgios Tsagdis

The object determines in modern occidental thought not only the totality of the world, but the totality of thought itself. No objectivity without the object, but also no subjectivity: in fact, no subject. The subject emerges as a correlate of the postulated object, as the latter’s substantiality is determined by Descartes as extension. The object amounts thus to the fixity, stability and permanence of an extended thing. In turn, the world becomes objective.
This course queries the object, by examining how this notion is recast in the 20th and 21st century, retracing the horizon of enquiry and opening thus a space of unprecedented creativity. Heidegger’s things, Benjamin’s works of art, Derrida’s traces, Deleuze’s becomings, Serres’s quasi-objects, Latour’s networks, Morton’s hyperobjects and Bennett’s thing-power are the provisional foci around which this space articulates itself, the foci from which our writing of non-objects begins.
In a series of close readings, the course engages directly with primary texts, in order to familiarise you with diverse philosophical styles and help you thus craft original responses to questions surrounding the objectivity of the object, its status and the manifold counter-figurations that can help interpret and transform the world, in radical, promising ways. Although clearly defined, the spectrum of theoretical positions encompassed by the course is deliberately broad. In order to sustain the focus on primary texts, a rather limited amount of secondary bibliography is given, as a suggestion of further directions, rather than as commentary on the course’s readings. Independent research will be required to enhance these readings, but more importantly your own analytical, critical and synthetic skills in order to open up and engage with the texts. Each session comprises of one primary and one or two secondary readings, all of which are integral. You are advised to go through the secondary readings ahead of the term, to allow enough time during the term to read the primary texts.

The courses, debates, workshop and events of Term 2 provide a framework for critical enquiry into the history of the discipline in relation to contemporary issues and emerging forms of architecture and history research and practice. The aim is two-fold: to frame the question of the contemporary from a historical, theoretical, and trans-disciplinary point of view; to expand disciplinary knowledge in a broad cultural and political arena and investigate modes of engagement with changing territorial, social and political formations.

Architecture Knowledge and Writing, Marina Lathouri

This series of seminars starts by looking at early architectural writings, the ways in which they identify and describe the object of architecture and the practice of the architect. It follows the historical process of the formation of disciplinary knowledge, paying particular attention to the search for origins, universal language and autonomy in the 18th century, the concepts of history and space in relation to the establishment of the first schools of architecture in the 19th century and the introduction of architectural historiography as distinct field of study. The series provides the students with the historical terms necessary to move towards an understanding of contemporary architecture cultures, the technologies and the multiple formats within which these are produced and communicated.
Two short writing exercises through the term are to relate specific architectural arguments to a broader constellation of meanings and processes.
The series will conclude with the two-week seminar on critical writing Deep Description, with our visiting tutor Fabrizio Gallanti.

Deep Description, Marina Lathouri and Fabrizio Gallanti

In his seminal essay “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture” (1973), anthropologist Clifford Geertz delineated the characteristic of “thick description”, a complex account that ethnographers should produce as a way of providing cultural context and meaning surrounding human behaviours, opposed to ‘thin description”, merely stating data and facts. According to Geertz an ethnographer must present a thick description, which is composed not only of facts but also of commentary, interpretation and interpretations of those comments and interpretations.
The seminar, following on Architecture Knowledge and Writing, proposes to transfer such an attitude towards the reading and interpretation of architecture and the built environment. This intention is based on the assumption, expressed by Umberto Eco in his essay “Proposte per una Semiologia dell’Architettura” (1967), that architectural thinking was the last trace of a humanist approach as it synthesizes numerous and different forces, sometimes contradictory, that are combined in the design process.
A “deep description” of realized buildings, projects, infrastructural arrangements, urban spaces and territories can provide a complex narrative of the overall context within which space is produced. The main hypothesis of “deep description” is that of a continuous system of feedback loops, that conceives built and designed architectural projects as the points of convergence of multiple economic, political and social forces, rather than the expression of creative authorship, disengaged by the constraints of reality. The feedback loop operates as a circle: analysing and describing a finite object, a museum building or a school, for instance, allow to identify clues and proofs of its uses and functioning but also of the implicit ideological position at the basis of its design. Permeating the debates around such an object, not just within architectural culture but also including economic, political, policy-making, urbanistic and planning discourses, posits the architectural piece within a wider landscape.
The act of description as a device to interpret and therefore implicitly advance design hypotheses has a peculiar tradition within architectural culture. One could read the travel annotations of Le Corbusier, the photographic record of modern USA by Eric Mendelsohn, the journalistic records from Chicago by Adolf Loos as precursors of such approach, that has resurfaced in different moments during the XX century (Aldo Rossi or “Learning from Las Vegas” or “Delirious New York” or “Made in Tokyo”). But architecture critics and writers have also used the array of analytical tools proper to the discipline to compose detailed inquiries within urban conditions, as a means to understand society as a whole, as in the case of Reyner Banham’s travels across Los Angeles or the American Desert.

Climate Peace, John Palmesino

Architecture is the agent of the relation between polities and their spaces of operation. The rise of the new climatic regime and the magnitude of the techno-sphere baffle architecture: from within it appears as the result of the multiple projects, designs, actions and processes of humans, within the remit of control and capacity to act. From the outset, humans are only a component of it, drawn into its functioning and endeavouring for its sustainment.
The seminar is dedicated to investigate specific conditions where this inversion of agency affects narratives of modernisation and the appreciation for the deep interconnections between architectural development, rapid urbanisation and human impact on the Earth System. These challenges are wide and require time to rethink the approach to history and critical thought in architecture in a number of ways. The development of the course in this sense would focus on five main questions:

  • How to evaluate architecture amid the energy and material fluxes characterising the rise of the Anthropocene.
  • How to investigate notions of value and its associated narratives, myths, and theories at a time of complex communication systems and globalisation.
  • How to asses codes and protocols to insure a democratic right to the transformation of the city at a time of deep automation and the rise of artificial intelligence systems.
  • How to articulate new notions of entanglement between architecture and the biosphere, both in theoretical and aesthetic turns, at a time of vast extinctions and climate change.
  • How to link enlarged notions of agency to authorship and authority.

HCT & PhD Debates, Marina Lathouri and guest speakers

The Debates, a joint MA and PhD seminar, provide a venue for exchange of ideas and arguments.
External speakers are invited every week, to position multiple voices and make possible a process of thinking in common, which is by definition a pedagogical practice different from the seminar or the lecture. The sessions are open to the public.
This year, in conjunction with the AA project Architecture in Translation we will use the notion and practices of translation to read processes and languages of history in unforeseen ways.
Every time brings specific conditions to the manner in which the claims on the past and the present are made. Whereas new technologies and forms of production have prompted elaborate arguments on economic policies, environmental strategies and sustainable development patterns, there seems to be a lack of reflection on the fundamental question of history. History is a composite form of knowledge and a distinct set of practices in intricate relationship with cultural economies, national and territorial claims and material configurations.
On the other hand, architecture as the material and technical appropriation of land, history and memory constitutes a complex site of power, of technics and aesthetics. As such, it unavoidably contributes to the language in which ideas of home, of belonging, of the near, the far and the foreign, are conceived and received. Is it then possible to proceed through a critical body of architectural references, existing or to be constituted, in order to rethink conceptions of time, conceptual and material appropriations of the past, and possible futures?
At a time where the very concept of the ‘human’ is frequently suspended, who and how will write histories which might open up the possibility of other histories and cultures, a different aesthetics, a different politics of inhabiting the Earth in the vicinity of others who may refuse our terms of translation. Translation, according to Umberto Eco, is a ‘negotiation’ between different and even opposite systems and beliefs, and is always anchored in time and space. It is a process, which may create identities, but can also cancel or oppress.
It is precisely the multiple articulations of constantly evolving interfaces – disciplinary, historical, social and political, and the multiple negotiations of frontiers, which are proposed to visiting speakers, tutors and students as the locus of debate.

In Term 3, the Thesis Research Seminar focuses on the most significant component of the students’ work, the final thesis. The choice of topic, the organisation of the field of research and the development of the central argument are discussed within the Research Seminar where students learn about the nature of a dissertation from the shared experience of the group. The unit trip, which takes place in the third term, includes intense sessions to help students solidify their thesis. At the end of term and during the summer, work in progress is presented to invited critics.

In Term 4 the students complete the writing of their thesis to be submitted in September.

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