This seminar serves as an introduction to prevalent critical approaches and methodologies in the history and theory of the design disciplines. The focus will be on recent developments in scholarship, in an attempt to ascertain how we write now. Just as “late work,” belatedness, or more generally, ripeness, have all served as critical and interpretive categories, we will take up new approaches to see where they lead and where emphasis has recently been directed. The aspect of temporal terminology of recentness is informed in part by Juan Pablo Bonta’s Architecture and Its Interpretation: A Study of Expressive Systems in Architecture (1979), where he examined how fixed notions (“canons”) settle into place. “The process of interpretation comprises,” Bonta writes, “the passage from blindness to pre-canonical responses, then the canonical interpretation and its dissemination, and finally silence and oblivion.” Our (in)attention is an instrument for modulating oblivion, casting its bounds in bibliographic space and time. We will deploy it well and wisely as we consider recent performances of interpretation as signs of things to come, namely the future shape of the field to which this seminar is an introduction. This is a highly specialized exercise. Again, in the words of Bonta, “Canons account for the bulk of people’s daily reactions to architecture. Identifying a canon takes less time than producing a pre-canonical interpretation.” As will be examined in our weekly seminars, with recent texts we are still in early days, before the onerous bulk of settled interpretation outweighs other possibilities of thinking.
The class is based on close readings and critical discussions. Readings include fundamental texts in art history, visual theory, media studies, and investigations of material culture. As much as possible, discussions will revolve around objects and cases deriving from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, and the study of cities.
Prerequisites: This course is normally open only to Ph.D. students in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning and Design. Other GSD and Harvard Ph.D. students may enroll with the instructor’s permission. Students interested in taking the course should submit by email to the instructor a short account of why they want to take the course, a copy of their resume including relevant background courses, and a short writing sample. If admitted to the course, students will be responsible for attending all classes and doing the assigned papers and presentations.