Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Architectural Theory I
The Questioning of Modernity
Professor William J. Carpenter FAIA PhD
office 678-915-4280
home 404-377-6889

School of Architecture, Construction and Civil Engineering Technology
Southern Polytechnic State University
ARCH 4115
Fall Semester 2005

Course Description
This course is based on presenting and understanding a survey of contemporary architectural culture. We will concentrate on The International Style, Modernism and Postmodernism.

Course Objective
The clear objective of to study the ideas of luminary architects to learn about their thought processes and to analyze the relationship of their writings, theories and built work.

Course Outcome
The course outcome to be able to analyze in-depth a contemporary architectural work and appreciate the theory underpinning it. This course will help prepare the designer to develop theories in their own work, which will culminate in their Thesis research.

Grade Calculation
Midterm Project 30%
Final Project 30%
Class Discussion and Quiz 40%

NAAB Criteria

1. Verbal and Writing Skills
3. Research Skills
4. Critical Thinking Skills
5. Human Diversity
36. The Context of Architecture


Studies in Tectonic Culture, Frampton, K, MIT Press, 2000

The International Style, Johnson and Hitchcock, Dover, 1946

Modern Architecture since 1900, W. Curtis, Prentiss Hall, 1986

Nesbitt, K, Theorizing a new Agenda for Architecture, an Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965-1995, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1996

Architecture Culture 1943-1968, Ockman, J ,Columbia University, Rizzoli, 1993

Midterm Project

An analysis of a modern architect’s theory and the influences on his or her work. 20 pages illustrated with analysis and diagrams of the projects studied. Turn in word doc on a cd and 2 printed copies of the paper.


1. Introduction
2. Biography
3. Influences
4. Analysis of three projects
5. Conclusions

Sample Topics:

Hassan Fathy
Eileen Gray
Van Eyk

Final Project

This project is a research based intensive study on one project by the architect, which was studied at midterm. We will analyze the building, theory, relation to other projects in the architects oeuvre and key writings involved. Key concepts are; relations to site and context, program, relation of plan to section and material assemblies. 15 pages minimum

A Museum Quality Model of the project studied, two copies of paper and a CD with all files. The model shall express site, circulations, spatial conception and materiality of the project.


Week One 8/22
Contemporary Architectural Theory; lectures by Professor Carpenter M/W

Week Two
Contemporary Architectural Theory; lectures by Professor Carpenter M/W

Week Three 9/5 Labor Day Holiday 9/7 Lecture
Contemporary Architectural Theory; Summary

Week Four
The International Style and Philip Johnson

Week Five
Organicism:Wright, Schindler, Neutra and Fay Jones

Week Six
Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus (Brueuer, Gropius, Albers and Itten)

Week Seven
Louis I. Kahn and Brutalism

Week Eight
Alvar Aalto and the Scandanavian School
Midterm Project due: 10/10 at 6pm

Week Nine
Charles and Ray Eames

Week Ten
Le Corbusier and the New York Five

Week Eleven
Carlo Scarpa

Week Twelve
Individual meetings: work on final projects

Week Thirteen and Fourteen
Work on Final Project

Final Project and Final Test
Test/Final project due: December 5 at 6pm


In the visual arts, the term “post-modern” may have gained currency first among architects and critics persuaded that International Style modernism had failed to achieve the utopian or humanist ideals pronounced by LeCorbusier and Mies van der Rohe: indeed it had seemed actually to have grown brutal and inhumane, once co-opted by government as well as private developers eager to exploit reductive aesthetics for the ruthlessly pragmatic purpose of giving less while charging, or paying, more for it.

Simultaneously, they also found their efforts to counter modernist unity with postmodern plurality reinforced by similar impulses in many other areas of inquiry and practice-ecology, psycholinguistics, neural networks and so forth. However it was semiotics that yielded the surest theoretical underpinning, relative to the other arts. If signs and symbols, like words and language, signify solely though their opposition to one another, then in architecture of multiple cods or signifiers stand to generate far more meaning than the single, purified code (or concept)—the bare bones functionalism—characteristic of the International Style.

Portland Building
Piazza d’ Italia
Graves Disney

So therefore Postmodernism was about Pluralism as opposed to monism, complexity, double coding and language. In many ways it related to the baroque. Concepts emphasized were Historical continuity, urban typology, contextualism and metaphor.


By 1987, post-modernism architecture appeared to have climaxed in a new-conservative process of easy, even empty and indiscrimate quotation from traditional prototypes. As the global economy boomed during the Reagan/Thatcher era, fueling wildly speculative construction of commercial real-estate, the industrialized world found itself treated to a proliferation of glass and steel office buildings masquerading as Gothic cathedrals, discount stores decked out as pagoda, and drugstores embellished with Classical orders

“The past began to seem not like a source for modern government, but more like a warm bath in which we would wallow” Paul Goldberger

Deconstruction was related with a kinship to the semiotic theory and critical practice articulated by France’s Jacques Derrida, deconstruction holds cultural products, like elements of language with an emphasis on differences. Words like decentered, dispersed, intertextual and referents were linked to signs and signifiers. The inherent disorder in the world was linked to architecture. Concepts such as stability, harmony and security were avoided in favor of architecture of instability, disharmony and insecurity. Key architects of this movement were Bernard Tschumi and Peter Eisenman.

“La Vilette, then, aims at an architecture that means nothing, an architecture of the signifier rather than the signified—on that is pure trace or pure language. In the Nietzchean manner, La Villette moves towards interpretive infinity, for the effect of refusing fixity is not insignificance, but semantic plurality. “

A connection was established to the Russian Avante Garde—malevich, Tatlin and Redechencko

The will was to collapse history

Derrida On Grammatology

1. Difference—A phantom, which exceed the boundaries of language. It is not a word or a concept it is a koan or puzzle.
a. A system of spacing
b. A deferral process—to postpone
c. A sense of differing or disagreeing
2. Hierarchy reversal this was an attack on western metaphysics and the notion of truth, here we have the reversal of notions like gravity and the reversal of served and servant space.
3. Marginality and centrality—This has to do with the limits and edges such as in the frame of a painting
4. Iterability and meaning—this has to do with the notion of layered ideas, relation exists between the physical social and historical context

Here we are speaking about levels of meaning in architecture

Parc la Villete
Eisenman Wexner Center
Hadid –Vitra
Gehry Bilbao
Coop Himmelblau


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