For the last half century, the image of an office building has been synonymous with the curtain wall. Pioneered as early as Mies’ proposal for Friedrichstrasse, the soaring, diaphanous planes of glass stood for technological modernization and global capital unlike any other architectural element. The curtain wall defined not only the image of an architectural typology, it defined twentieth century urbanization in ways that we are only beginning to fully understand. Beyond the sociological or typological, its farthest-reaching consequences are without a doubt ecological. In the few inches of those thin panes, the curtain wall embodied the quixotic twentieth century attitude of building against nature – of building to control nature.

Today, we understand more clearly the impacts of that arrogance. In New York, the single greatest challenge to architects over the next decades will be the retrofitting of the glazed energivores. The city’s Green New Deal announced in 2019 includes the ban of all-glass structures. While this ban surprised many, it presents a wake-up call and an opportunity to question what has been a lazy default of office design both on a typological but also on a representational standpoint.

This research seminar will look at the alternative history of the envelope before and in parallel to the curtain wall. We will unpack the sociological, symbolic, performative and of course aesthetic demands placed on these outermost inches of a building.  The seminar will be design-oriented and constructively based but will involve collective readings and discussions, as well as independent research, drawings, and short presentations. Please be aware that this course will be conducted in hybrid mode with online as well as in-class meetings.

Note: the instructor will offer online live course presentations on 08/26, and/or 08/27. To access the detailed schedule and Zoom links, please visit the Live Course Presentations Website.

Please note this course will meet online through 9/15. After that, the class will continue to meet on Zoom with the exception of four in-person sessions:  09/22, 10/27, 11/17, and 12/15. The course will be a combination of lectures, research presentations, and discussions. Please review the syllabus for more details. Please note that this is subject to change.

The first class meeting will be on Wednesday, September 8th. The rest of the semester, classes will meet during the official scheduled time.