The Architect in History: The Evolution of Practice from the Renaissance to the Present

This course examines the history of architectural practice, focusing on the changing role and definition of the architect, with the goal of providing new perspectives on how we design and build today. The course begins in Renaissance Italy, moves through 17th- through 19th-century France and England, and then traces the evolution of practice in the United States from 1800 to the present. Major themes include:

  • Changing models of architectural education, from the Beaux-Arts to modernism.
  • Relationships with clients: How are building needs defined? How have architects made (or lost) money? How has government regulated the built environment?
  • Relationship with the construction industry: Architects’ uses of technologies through history; their role relative to builders, as collaborators or adversaries. How have architects conveyed their design intent to clients and builders through drawings and models?
  • Insiders and outsiders: Evolution of professional organizations and their gatekeeper role; the profession’s treatment of women and minorities.
  • Relationship of architecture to other design professions: Engineering, landscape architecture, city planning, and interior design.
  • Firms and individual creators: Professional myths and historical realities. The growth of big-firm practice, versus the branding and selling of the individual creator; the influence of critics and photographers on design.

Class format will be a combination of lecture and discussion. Several classes will feature guest speakers. Readings will include original source materials (both written and graphic), and secondary interpretations. Course requirements will include a research paper, a final exam, and class participation. There is no prerequisite. All readings will be available on the course website.