Buildings, Texts, and Contexts: Modernism and its Counter-Narratives
Modernism has fundamentally to do with the emergence of new kinds of objects and events and, at the same time, new conceptualizations of their appearance, of changing event structures and temporalities, and of the relationships between objects, their producers and maintainers, and their audiences and consumers. A history of modern architecture, then, must involve a robust theory of the producing, using, viewing subject as well as of the object itself—which includes buildings and projects, texts and discourses, and the contexts of their production and reception.
Specific features of the object—global capital markets and the rise of nationalism; colonial independence and lingering regimes of inequality; aspirations to universality and the entrenchment of local interests; in general, the contradictory conditions of the modern world—marked a fundamental change in the way its history could be conceived. By the turn of the twentieth century, the ideal of the universal subject of the European Enlightenment had been irrevocably fractured. Similarly, former parameters by which “proper” forms of art and architecture were evaluated no longer held. Constructing a singular historical narrative able to contain and make sense of these contradictions was no longer quite as useful, nor even possible. In other words: modernism asked us to question the very frames by which we considered the practice of architecture. The process of questioning continues today, demanding further counternarratives.
This course will use theoretical texts and historical examples to generate ways of thinking about modern architecture not as bygone era but as the inaugural frame for our own situation. Our question is not “How does modern architecture reflect the given conditions of modernity?” but rather, “How can architecture (as subject, as object, as technique) produce those very conditions?’