This seminar will focus on architecture’s appearance, how architecture is grasped by its public. We will explore the sources, significances, and receptions of our work’s expression and posture. Our aim will be to develop better understandings and instruments through which to exploit how architecture is made both legible and actionable to its audience.

The labels attached to architecture’s visual bearing speak to its fickle nature across schools of thought: envelope, enclosure, façade, elevation, composition, index, form, representation, symbol, skin…the list is long and points in disparate directions. For an architect, pausing over questions of what architecture looks like can induce an unease about architecture’s perimeter that may nudge us toward the safe haven of impartial or veiled expression, specious as that may or may not be.

And yet, architecture’s appearance tantalizes. With reason.

In both literal and cultural senses, appearances tender architecture’s most immediate entry point. What a building looks like trades on the extremes of a building’s physical and metaphysical demands. Appearance is at times the result of something akin to pure science (as in building construction or optics) and at other times marinated in various combinations of significance, beauty, and appropriateness…the wooliest of architectural pursuits.

Regardless of what we may want to do with it, architecture gives us no choice: it will appear. We will see our architectures as objects and look into and past their literalities in search of what they might signal. We will take hold of them as exteriors and interiors. And we will react to them in ways that are visceral. Our buildings don’t just appear. They entice, loom, defend, and evaporate.

Two corrective lenses, related to each other, will be important to our semester.

Lens One – Appearance and Action
We will spend the semester discussing architecture’s appearance. With no desire to temper or sidestep that conversation, we will also take up a re-aligned version of Hannah Arendt’s “space of appearance,” in which she poignantly lays out “the various forms in which the public realm can be organized.” With Arendt’s evocative thoughts as background, this seminar might be thought of as centering on the ‘appearance of space,’ an easy rearrangement of Arendt’s phrase meant to stay close to her assertion that “the only indispensable material factor in the generation of power is the living together of people.” Architecture may well be our only hope vis-à-vis what she called “the potentiality of being together.”

Because architecture’s appearance reaches into the very nature of public life, and because both architecture and public life thrive on possibilities more than certainties, we will begin with the hypothesis that architectural appearances are particularly well suited to cajoling public life. Another way to put this: Public life ought to exist because of architecture’s appearance…and never despite it.

Lens Two – Time to Move Along
Occasionally, I’m skeptical of architectural postmodernism’s appearance/re-appearance in our discipline. On all other days, I’m hostile to it. Anyone interested in this seminar should be aware that we will not take up postmodernism other than to establish a parallel conversation that might, on some days, dip into being complementary.