An Unsentimental Look at Architecture and Social Craft

Designers of the built environment have had an on-again, off-again relationship with social agency. Progressive design and social outcomes were closely linked in early modernism. These interests realigned again under much different circumstances in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, we are again witnessing an elevated interest in their linkage. To date, however, we lack the ability to articulate what forms of social impact are actually within the architect’s scope. The majority of the praise given to projects of perceived societal value is limited to the project’s social benefit program or its underserved community context. The problem with these critiques is that they reveal little about how the architect’s design decisions have created any greater or lesser social value. This course will have you move beyond program and context to speculate how you can address social impact opportunities within mainstream practice. 

Because this area of knowledge is so nascent, we will use dialogue as the exploratory tool and final products of the course. The challenge of this course is to develop your own inquiries into social agency and learn to leverage your agency as a student to influence the discourse within the school. Working in small teams, your final deliverable is to curate an action that influences the conversation concerning the social agenda within the Harvard GSD and beyond. You will choose the focus of the discourse and you will have room to pursue both conventional and unconventional methods of engagement. Projects could include, film, open letters, installations, online campaigns, or dinner parties. 

Throughout the semester, you will meet with me or the TAs to discuss the development of your project. Success will be determined by the quality of debate you are able to generate around the issue you are raising. Classes will explore different approaches and tools for negotiating our agency through case studies and guest speakers. You will be required to read short case studies and brief weekly readings. Once over the semester, you will each be asked to analyze a particular project and present it to the class. The task is to evaluate the options available to the designers as well as the choices they made. While this course is within the architecture program, we will consider design interventions at many scales and I welcome students from all disciplines to join the course.


Please note this course will meet online through 9/15.

The first class meeting will be on Wednesday, September 8th. The rest of the semester, classes will meet during the official scheduled time.