Special Offerings in Design Theory

Provocation\”There is hardly any real architectural theory to be found, despite the diversity of practices at work today, anddespite a hugely expanded volume of architectural publications. There is only after-theory.\”–Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, 1998Seven years have passed since Berkel and Bos proclaimed architecture to be \”after theory, \” and since then many of the \”expanded volume of journals\” that provided a venue for theoretical texts have ceased publication.What is after \”after-theory?\” Has the ubiquity of capitalism and the homogenous space of the global economy(with its concomitant mandate for accountability and rationality) precluded the possibility for a theoretical (or critical) reflection? Berkel and Bos\’s declaration came at a time when the received conventions of \”architecturaltheory\” had firmly established a linear relationship between theory and design such that one preceded the other – that is where theory functioned either as generator of form or as legitimator of form. Inherent in these conventions is the presupposition that theory\’s domain is exclusively discursive and practice is manifest asexclusively material.This seminar will question these dialectical distinctions with the intention of opening up a new series of opportunitiesto reclaim theory as a means to think and work in architecture. Accordingly, the course will be structured around a series of topics in contemporary architectural discourse, investigated through both texts and projects that allow comparisons and relations between the work of different architects and different contexts.As such, this class does not attempt to provide a comprehensive survey of contemporary practice, but rather simply addresses certain issues where there are productive relationships between the thinking and the making of architecture. Texts and projects will be investigated concurrently and are intended to compliment each otherwithout creating a direct correspondence. The intention is that this disjunction might provide a working space for our exploration, testing and development of ways of thinking architecture theory and practice today.StructureEach week, the seminar will focus on an issue pertinent to contemporary architectural discourse. I will begin thediscussion with a slide talk, after which two or three students will lead a discussion of the readings, incorporating examples of projects (built or unbuilt) that address the issue of the weeks\’ topic. Students will be expected to be prepared for seminar discussion, by undertaking prescribed readings. Enrollment is limited to 15 students.RequirementsWorking individually or in teams, students will develop a topic in contemporary architecture that integrates projects and discourse, to be presented to the class for discussion and critique. The final project, a polemical document or presentation suitable for dissemination, is due at the end of the semester. The form of the final project is subject to approval by the instructor, but will include written analysis (1000-4000 words) and graphic material,and might take the form of a short catalog, journal, blog or the design of an exhibition.Professor Ashley SchaferWednesday 9:30-12:00aschafer@gsd.harvard.edu