Theorizing Modernism in Architecture

Modernism in architecture has been characterized variously by architects and social theorists as a set of approaches to the design process based on Enlightenment ideals (A. Perez-Gomez, A. Picon); a socio-critical practice in which architecture insists upon its own autonomy vis a vis culture and the marketplace (Tafuri, Hays); a set of stylistic tropes meant to symbolize the industrial age (Sigfried Giedion, Richard Weston); a radical eradication of the boundaries between high architecture (or art) and everyday life (Hannes Meyer, Burger).The heterogeneity of the existing accounts of modernism is indicative of the richness and vibrancy of this tradition, which dominatedarchitectural practice in the twentieth century and therefore critically shapes our understanding of architecture today. In light of contemporary architects\’ revived interest in modernism, it is especially important that we not let either reductive views of modernism or its obvious complexity discourage us from critically analyzing it as at once a coherent cultural phenomenon and an internally plural one.This course, which covers the years from 1920-2000, offers a paradigm for understanding modernism in architecture – a paradigm which articulates modernism\’s core principles while accounting for its heterogeneity. While the course approaches the relevant architectural movements, figures, works in a chronological fashion, its lectures are organized around basic themes. Among the questions asked are: What is modernity, and what is the relationship of modernism in architecture to modernity? Is modernism a style, after all? What is the relationship of modernism to the \”avant-garde\”? What role does tradition play in the formulation of a modernist sensibility? Are there various, identifiable, \”strains\” of modernism that move beyond a chronological catalogue of familiar movements? Do anti-modernist movements (Nazi neoclassicism, for example) help us to articulate the limits of modernism? How do we understand post-modernism in light of the ongoing vibrancy of the modernist tradition?The course is a hybrid lecture/seminar, in which the instructor will offer lectures on the basic theoretical and historical themes andstudents will offer case study presentations on an architect, movement, or theoretical issue which they select in collaboration with theprofessor. Readings will be a combination of primary texts written by architects; essays of architectural criticism and theory; and writings in social theory, philosophy and cultural history.