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

Course description

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.

Course outline

  • Part I: Form and History

    Module 1: The Architectural Imagination: An Introduction

    Module 2: Reading Architecture: Column and Wall

    Module 3: Hegel and Architectural History

    Module 4: Aldo Rossi and Typology 

  • Part II: The Technology Effect

    Module 5: The Crystal Palace: Infrastructure and Detail

    Module 6: The Dialectics of Glass and Steel

    Module 7: Technology Tamed: Le Corbusier’s Machines for Living

  • Part III: Representation and Context

    Module 8: Drawing Utopia: Visionary Architecture of the 18th Century

    Module 9: The Pompidou Center in the City of Paris

    Module 10: Presenting the Unrepresentable

Faculty

  • Portrait of K. Michael Hays
    Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory; Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Harvard University
  • Portrait of Erika Naginski
    Professor of Architectural History; Director of Graduate Studies, Harvard University
  • Portrait of Antoine Picon
    G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology; Technology Director of Research, Harvard University
  • Portrait of Lisa Haber-Thomson
    Instructor in Architecture, Harvard University

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Graduate School of Design

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