Buildings, Texts, and Contexts: Origins and Ends

Our aim is to address the general rupture caused by the rise of modernity—that is, by the social, economic, technological, and ideological transformations accompanying the political and industrial revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was an age of internationalization in design practices and issues, a process that was accompanied by technological transformation and utopian thinking as well as by rising tensions linked to social inequality, colonial expansionism, and political upheaval. Our work in this course will look at the three pillars of buildings, texts, and contexts in order to find the equilibrium between, on the one hand, localized historical narratives and, on the other, the sampling to which a global purview necessarily gives rise.

The transition of architecture to the modern world prompts a series of fundamental questions: How did historical conditions place pressure on the tradition-bound parameters of architecture, on its origins, theories, and pedagogies? How did new conditions of scientific possibility actively reconfigure architecture’s relation to engineering and ideologies of progress? And how, finally, did aesthetic conceptions and approaches, which trace an arc from the demise of the Vitruvian tradition to eclecticism, historicism, and rationalist avant-gardes, intersect with gender, race, society, and politics?

This course weaves these questions through topics and themes ranging from technology and utopia to ornament and imperialism. We begin with late Baroque polemics and the disintegration of the Classical system. We consider the multifaceted nature of eighteenth- century architectural expressions in such examples as: the ideal city from royal Jaipur to revolutionary Paris, the split between architects and engineers; origin myths and the status of history; and the formulation of building typologies from churches and factories to slave plantations in colonial contexts. The nineteenth century, which for us is inaugurated by a utopian imaginary, covers key episodes such as utopian socialism in the context of the Industrial Revolution, town planning and racial politics after the Civil War, the Beaux-Arts system in Europe, China, and the Americas, the intertwining of ornament and British imperialism in India, the collision of vernacular traditions and colonial modernity in Africa, and, finally, the global dream of colossal structures and the infrastructural programs of the modern metropolis.