Introduction

Architecture engages a culture’s deepest social values and expresses them in material, aesthetic form. In this course, you will learn how to “read” architecture as a cultural expression as well as a technical achievement. Vivid analyses of exemplary buildings from a wide range of historical contexts, coupled with hands-on exercises in drawing and modeling, bring you close to the work of an actual architect or historian.

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Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated and globally recognized cultural practices, both as an academic subject and a professional career. Its production involves all of the technical, aesthetic, political, and economic issues at play within a given society. Over the course of ten modules, we’ll examine some of history’s most important examples that show how architecture engages, mediates, and expresses a culture’s complex aspirations.

The first part of the course introduces the idea of the architectural imagination as a faculty that mediates sensuous experience and conceptual understanding. Two examples of the architectural imagination—perspective drawing and architectural typology—are explored through video presentations and hands-on exercises. You will be introduced to some of the challenges involved in writing architectural history, revealing that architecture does not always have a straightforward relationship to its own history.

In the second set of modules, we address technology as a component of architecture’s realization and understanding. Architecture is embedded in contexts where technologies and materials of construction—glass and steel, reinforced concrete—are crucial agents of change. But a society’s technology does not determine its architectural forms. You will discover ways that innovative technology can enable and promote new aesthetic experiences, or disrupt age-old traditions. You will witness architecture’s ways of converting brute technical means into meaningful perceptions and textures of daily life. The interactions of architecture and modern technologies changed not only what could be built, but also what kinds of constructions could even be thought of as architecture.

The final set of modules confronts architecture’s complex relationship to its social and historical contexts and its audiences, achievements, and aspirations. As a professional practice deeply embedded in society, architecture has social obligations and the aesthetic power to negotiate social change; to carry collective memories; even to express society’s utopian ideals. You will learn about what we call architecture’s power of representation, and see how architecture has a particular capacity to produce collective meaning and memories.

What you'll learn:

  • How to read, analyze, and understand different forms of architectural representation
  • Social and historical contexts behind major works of architecture
  • Basic principles to produce your own architectural drawings and models
  • Pertinent content for academic study or a professional career as an architect

Meet The Faculty

K. Michael Hays

K. Michael Hays

Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory; Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Harvard University

Michael Hays is Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, as well as Interim Chair for the Department of Architecture. Hays joined the Faculty of Design in 1988, teaching courses in architectural history and theory.

Hays has played a central role in the development of the field of architectural theory internationally. His research and scholarship have focused on the areas of European and American modernism and critical theory as well as on theoretical issues in contemporary architectural practice. He has published on the work of modern architects such as Hannes Meyer, Ludwig Hilberseimer, and Mies van der Rohe, as well as on contemporary figures. Hays was the founder of the scholarly journal Assemblage, which was a leading forum of discussion of architectural theory in North America and Europe. From 1995 to 2005 he was Chair of the PhD Committee and Director of the GSD’s Advanced Independent Study Programs. In 2000 he was appointed the first Adjunct Curator of Architecture at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a position he held until 2009.

Hays received the Bachelor of Architecture degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1976. From MIT he received the Master of Architecture degree in Advanced Studies in 1979, and the Doctor of Philosophy in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art in 1990.

Erika Naginski

Erika Naginski

Professor of Architectural History; Director of Graduate Studies, Harvard University

Erika Naginski is Professor of Architectural History at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she serves as Director of the OHD program in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning. Her publications, which focus on European architecture (1600-1800), include books and co-edited volumes such as Polemical Objects (2004), Sculpture and Enlightenment (2009) and The Return of Nature (2014). She has received fellowships from the Harvard Society of Fellows, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Antoine Picon

Antoine Picon

G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology; Technology Director of Research, Harvard University

Antoine Picon is the G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology and Director of Research at the GSD. He teaches courses in the history and theory of architecture and technology. Trained as an engineer, architect, and historian, Picon works on the history of architectural and urban technologies from the eighteenth century to the present. His French Architects and Engineers in the Age of Enlightenment (1988; English translation, 1992) is a synthetic study of the disciplinary "deep structures" of architecture, garden design, and engineering in the eighteenth century, and their transformations as new issues of territorial management and infrastructure-systems planning were confronted. Whereas Claude Perrault (1613-1688) ou la Curiosité d'un classique (1988) traces the origin of these changes at the end of the seventeenth century, L'Invention de l’Ingénieur Moderne, L'Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées 1747-1851 (1992) envisages their full development from the mid-eighteenth century to the 1850s. Picon has also worked on the relations between society, technology and utopia. This is in particular the theme of Les Saint-Simoniens: Raison, Imaginaire, et Utopie (2002), a detailed study of the Saint-Simonian movement that played a seminal role in the emergence of industrial modernity. Picon’s most recent books offer a comprehensive overview of the changes brought by the computer and digital culture to the theory and practice of architecture as well as to the planning and experience of the city. He has published in particular Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Profession (2010), Ornament: The Politics of Architecture and Subjectivity (2013), Smart Cities: Théorie et Critique d'un Idéal Autoréalisateur (2013), Smart Cities: A Spatialized Intelligence (2014).

Picon has received a number of awards for his writings, including the Médaille de la Ville de Paris and twice the Prix du Livre d'Architecture de la Ville de Briey, as well as the Georges Sarton Medal of the University of Gand. In 2010, he was elected a member of the French Académie des Technologies. He is Chevalier des Arts et Lettres since 2014. He is also Chairman of the Fondation Le Corbusier.

Picon received science and engineering degrees from the Ecole Polytechnique and from the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, an architecture degree from the Ecole d'Architecture de Paris-Villemin, and a PhD in history from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

Lisa Haber-Thomson

Lisa Haber-Thomson

Instructor in Architecture, Harvard University

Lisa Haber-Thomson is currently a PhD candidate in Architectural History and Theory at Harvard University. Her research explores the intersecting relationships between territory, law, and architecture. She is currently completing her dissertation, Territories of incarceration: architecture and judicial procedure across the English Channel, 1642-1945. Past research has examined the legal significance of a variety of architectural structures, and has ranged from an analysis of the use of watermills in medieval property disputes, to a study of the contemporary usages of Maginot Line casemates in eastern France. Lisa has been the recipient of the Julia A. Appleton Traveling Fellowship in Architecture, and the Frederick Sheldon Fund Traveling Fellowship. Additional support for her research has been awarded by the Soane Foundation and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Lisa has worked as an architect at Ateliers Jean Nouvel in Paris, France, and as a video and sound editor for the Science Media Group. Continuing work in educational video production includes pedagogical design and implementation of this online course, The Architectural Imagination.

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