Scenes of Design, Development, and Disaster

The architect’s arrival on the scene – like that of the hero, the movie star, and the forensic technician – is an archetypal moment of an established storyline.  The scene becomes the site, delineated and imbued with gravitas. Observation and analysis ensue, and these lead to plans, which subsequently lead to promises of new, enlightened environments. The sequence is as ritualistic as it is crafted – a design of designs.

This course puts up for debate the expected role of the architect – or that of any designer licensed to manipulate the built environment. Participants will be summoned to peel back assumptions and mythologies that have defined the profession. Starting with the most basic notions of settlement and development, class meetings will explore whether architecture responds too quickly with an elapsed palette of solutions.

In the short span of this semester, participants will look at how we might reimagine the architect, open to new mythologies and more potent licensures in the face of a threatened world.

To do so we will investigate histories, tales of modernity, and some tenable case studies that help expose and confront the architect’s most worrisome survival techniques. The course will consider how historical narrative, colonial systems, popular media, and ideas of global development have inflected, or might recharge, the architect’s role. Class discussions will focus on written works by architects as well as anthropologists, agriculturalists, economists, aid workers, climatologists, and other technical experts. These kindred experts might have lessons in store for the architect.

In the last several years there have been calls for architecture to reclaim a connection to humanitarian efforts – whether in housing equity, global migration, climate change, or disaster relief. Class discussions will consider the wanderings of the global architect in terms of these topics. If some disaster experts are correct in saying that architects can do best by staying away from the scene, might there then be a need to reprogram how an architect works?

This course is ultimately a contemplative, even self-reflective, exercise. Therefore, active participation – in both preparation and classroom engagement – is essential. Students will also be expected to work with the instructor to bring samples from the ever-developing contemporary practice into the ongoing discussion. In the end, it is hoped that participants will have in their possession a convincing, if not saleable, account of what an architect can be.