Ever since the theoretical turn of the 1960s, right through to the present, the status of the architectural object in the sphere of history, theory and criticism keeps taking on more and more forms. Whether as the reification of power structures, as a facilitator of participatory processes, as the locus of phenomenological content, as the hypostatization of terms pertaining to other systems of thought, as a vehicle to reflect upon unmediated practices, as a catalyst to investigate the psychology of perception, as amenable to mirror processes in the natural world—its increasing epistemological diversification is an index for the growing sophistication of our field. Within this tendency, however, the object emerges more often as a medium through which to tap into another domain—if not as altogether absent—than it does as a realm of research in its own right. Conversely, this seminar suggests that discussions taking the object as their primary concern can today extend the bounds of possibility for the production of discursive knowledge in a substantial fashion. In order to do so it invokes the architectural object par excellence—the building.
This course is part of an ongoing project launched in 2014 through two international symposia, held at the Architectural Association in London and Columbia GSAPP in New York. Currently The Building is also a book in the works, to be published by Lars Müller in Fall 2016. Enrolled students will have the opportunity to be involved in the project’s further installments.
The seminar is structured around a number of case studies—buildings built or designed mostly within the last 25 years. There will be an introductory week, 8 seminar sessions and 4 field trips in NYC to visit buildings which are particularly relevant to the purposes of the class. Each seminar session will proceed as a reading and discussion group, with students expected to take an active role.
In examining the various case studies, the goal shall be twofold: on the one hand, to discuss what it means for a building to embody a historically significant contribution in terms of a particular design aspect or a concept relevant to the reading of buildings in general; on the other, to venture specific ways in which buildings can themselves generate metadisciplinary ideas—i.e. induce theoretical frameworks whose influence is to extend beyond architecture into other domains in the humanities and the social sciences. Case studies have been grouped under six fundamental categories, namely “elements,” “wholes,” “content,” “context,” “referents,” and “the digital.” While these terms can be read as specifically architectural, nevertheless they are elemental enough as to be central to those other domains too, thereby facilitating interdisciplinary discussions at the most essential level.
In-depth exposure to a few of the most important buildings conceived in Europe, Asia and the US over the last few decades will significantly increase the students’ design culture. In addition, their capacity to engender far-reaching concepts and, more generally, discourse through architectural design will be further cultivated. Third, by retrospectively assessing and reworking the set of paragraphs produced over the course of a semester, they will gain experience in identifying their own thinking patterns as well as exploring alternative ways of producing writing, beyond standard paper composition.