GSD Course Bulletin - Spring 2014

04334: Geo Architecture: A History and Theory for an Emerging Aesthetic (HIS 0433400)

Urban Planning and Design
Lecture - 4 credits
Friday 3:00 - 6:00   Gund 109

Course Tools for this course (Canvas)

A. Hashim Sarkis

Course Description

The course approaches architectural form through geographically inspired constructs.
Drawing from physical and human geography, the proposed theory expands the setting of architecture from the city to the ecumene. By casting the net at the scale of the inhabited world, different design strategies are developed to respond to and to express this scale. Tools (derived from different sub-disciplines like volitional geography and mesology) are also mobilized to effectively construct intermediary scales of regions and territories through specifically architectural means.
Drawing from the concept of “forms of life”, this new theory also reactivates the typological approach in architecture, employing it in more dynamic terms than recent historicist readings have allowed. The course focuses on architectural effects such as emptiness, two-dimensionality, deep interiority, and megalithicism that emerge as expressions of architecture’s active mediation between heightened differentiation and the unity of the ecumene.
The course presents this theory of “geo-architecture” as an alternative to the highly functionalized (mostly systemic) interpretations of architecture’s urban and environmental role today but also as an alternative to reactionary formalisms.

The course works between historical and contemporary themes. The historical material covers the intellectual affinities between architects and geographers, primarily between Le Corbusier and Jean Brunhes; Aldo Rossi and Max Sorre; Vittorio Gregotti and Lucio Gambi; and Kevin Lynch and Maurice Halbwachs.
The course proposes this architecture of geography as an extension of Le Corbusier’s concept of “geo-architecture” towards contemporary debates around territoriality and architecture but also around the role that architecture could play in addressing the expanded context. Some of the main contemporary debates that will be foregrounded are:
- the new scale of settlement that transgresses the boundaries of the metropolis and even those of the nation state
- the strong commitment to a formal role for architecture at the larger scale and the limits of systemic urbanism
- the elevation of geography to an aesthetic
- the impact of a heightened environmental consciousness
The course also draws from contemporary design ideas on territory and architecture from the likes of Paola Vigano and Bernardo Secchi, Angelo Bucci, Stan Allen, and Kenneth Frampton as well as geographers and anthropologists like Marcel Hénaff, Milton Santos, Marc Augé, and Augustin Berque.

The course will focus on five constructs:

The Ecumenic:
What is the architecture that is capable of expressing the ecumenos, or the inhabited world? How can architecture, in its specificity, locality, and contingency express universality? Building on the geographic conceptions of ecumenos, particularly those of Max. Sorre and Augustin Berque, this construct also draws from a long and rich history of architecture engaged in imagining the world. We will look at modernists like Doxiadis, Superstudio, and Buckminister Fuller as well as more recent reflections on the world by Jean-Luc Nancy and Peter Sloterdijk.

The Territorial:
The role of architecture in the development of intermediary scales has often been relegated to urban planning. Here, we look at the possibilities for architecture at the intersection of different forms of land-use and mobility. We will also look at the possibility of architecture operating beyond and after the urban as its limit.
Readings include Le Corbusier’s Three Human Establishments, Vittorio Gregotti’s Territorial Form and Kevin Lynch’s Sense of Region. Contemporary case studies include the work of Finn Geipel and Secchi and Vigano’s Grand Paris and Angelo Bucci’s Sao Paulo.

The ‘Mediamorphic’:
A central concept to geography, the idea of “forms of life,” will be re-considered as model for architectural mediation between humans and their environment. It will also provide the framework for a renewed typo-morphological approach. We will undertake a closer reading of Rossi’s typology and unpack its connection with the idea of “genre de vie” by Max. Sorre. Importantly, we will bring it to bear on typological debates in architecture today with the aim of applying a media-morphic model at several scales of architecture.
Contemporary readings will include Augustin Berque’s theory of mesology or the study of mediums.

The Megalithic:
This construct focuses on an emerging tendency in architecture where architectural forms are composed of very large pieces of mass, stacked on top of each other in a manner that challenges the scale of conventional structures, the prevailing tectonic logic of architecture, and its habitual perception.
Studied in relation with a coextensive construct--that of Kenneth Frampton’s megaform--, this construct generates a formal lexicon that generates a new meta-language between architecture and geography.
We will be relying on readings from Frampton and Stan Allen and on an examination of architecture and art that deal with megalithics like the Ensamble Studio.

The Geo-Graphic:
An important dimension of geo-architecture is that it is not only culturally determined but also constitutive of its culture. Here the definition of culture is expanded to include mobility, multiplicity, and hybridity. As such, the success of the form is dependent on its ability to communicate across cultures and to generate a graphic or graphics that complement and expand the architectural palette.
The forms of geography, mountains, skies, rivers, and urban skylines, but also of conflated iconographies as they have reemerged in contemporary architecture, will be theorized and discussed using the writings from Jacques Rancière and Marc Augé.

The class is open to students in all programs who have completed their core history requirements. It is primarily geared towards masters and doctorate students who are developing their thesis ideas.
The class meets once a week for three hours. The first half of each session consists of a lecture, based on the chapters of a manuscript that will be shared with the students. The second half alternates between a discussion of the readings and a discussion of drawing exercises led by students.

- Readings and participation in class discussions
- Leading one of the discussions around that week’s readings or drawing exercise as part of a group
- Final submission: Either a 16-20 page paper or a series of drawings related to one of the constructs. The topic of the paper or the drawings will be decided by the fourth class meeting.