“Speaking of Architecture…” (Authorship/Objecthood/Criticism)

This seminar is motivated by the premise that all architecture is “architecture,” and is offered as a polemical dispute with the myriad attempts to remove or erase the significance of those quotation marks. The denigration of discursivity embodied by these recent efforts is one aspect of a flattening ontology issued in the name of the anthropocene, a posturing that is fully if paradoxically underwritten by the logics of a neo-liberal regime that the advocates of such a posthumanism (or new materialism) otherwise purport to critique.  In other words, these varied calls for a flat ontology culminate a general process of deregulation (at the level of culture and everyday life as much as political-economy) that takes as one of its central targets the concept of the author, aiming to replace this convention with new, “horizontal” formats of collaboration (e.g., BIM, crowdsourcing), sites of evidence (whether the archive or the bureaucracy of paperwork), and subjects of engagement (agents and actants). This larger trajectory from authorship to agency (and equally from the work as project to work as literal activity) parallels a broader cultural shift, one where questions of intent and meaning have been replaced by a demand for impact and measurement, and a discipline previously animated by ideology and interpretation has become supplanted by practices fixated on identity and experience.

Venturing to establish momentum for an alternative to this present impasse of architecture, the seminar begins with an historical and conceptual consideration of the relationship between words and things—or saying and seeing, the articulable and the visible—that has served to instigate the most intractable dilemmas and profound accomplishments within the architecture of the last century. If modern architecture could imagine a self-evident or automatic transparency between its ideology and objects, the postwar delamination of this identity of word and form (or morale-word and physique-flesh, in Colin Rowe’s terms) would initiate the most intense period of attention to the possibilities for the project of architecture among a generation of architects and critics during the last third of the twentieth century. Indeed, in reconfiguring the realms of the discursive and visible, the period would inaugurate a new form of architectural auteur, the architect-critic, a simultaneously designing-and-writing figure that the seminar also seeks to recuperate as an opportunity for contemporary practice.

Beginning with Gotthold Lessing’s important attempt to establish the limits between the temporal and spatial arts, the seminar quickly jumps two centuries to the debates over minimalism that recall and reconfigure Lessing’s categorization, and that serve as a prelude to engaging work and debates from the last decade that have taken place within, and often between, architecture, art, and literary theory. Students should have an appetite for tracing these sorts of themes throughout the texts and discussions, while mobilizing an imaginative ambition in relating them to contemporary practices and problems within architecture.

The course will meet in person the first week, and then alternate weeks remotely (via zoom) and in person. The course will take advantage of this hybrid format to invite guests to present research and engage in conversation with the class during remote sessions (currently confirmed guests include Penelope Dean, Sam Jacob, Walter Benn Michaels, and John McMorrough).