The Sixties: Architecture, Media, and the City in the Time of the Vietnam War

This seminar examines a critical moment in American architectural culture, during which disillusionment with postwar corporate modernism and the failure of urban renewal and public housing evolved in the mid-1960s into a sustained critique of the social and economic tenets and the reductive codes of the Modern Movement itself. In the late 1960s, the critique of modernism would turn from an activist emphasis on radical institutional reform to a preoccupation with signification and the communicative power of the architectural object.These transformations took place within the context of radical social and political upheavals. The defining events of the decade: the civil rights movement, political assassinations, urban riots, and especially the Vietnam War, deeply divided American society along lines of race, marginality, and gender, that cut across traditional conceptions of class. At the same time, the development of new mass technologies of communication, media culture in the advanced industrial countries, rapid modernization in much of the non-Western world, and the transition to multinational consumer capitalism (the Third Technological Revolution) intensified and magnified the impact of the social and political movements of the period while shifting the focus to their representation. Although these movements often failed to achieve their immediate political goals, it can be argued that they created some of the physical and conceptual spaces, as well as the political subtext, for the cultural transformations that followed in their wake.The purpose of the seminar is to interrogate this proposition by examining moments of transition – from oppositionist avant-garde subculture (informed by philosophies of alienated subjectivity: phenomenology, existentialism, Marxism) in the early 1960s, to political activism, and cultural radicalism in the mid- and late-1960s. Discussions will focus on readings, key issues, and debates of the period. Connections to popular culture, avant-garde art practices, film, supergraphic and electronic spatial experiments, the \”banal,\” as well as the discourses of political activism will be explored. Course assignments include weekly readings and informed participation in class discussions. A careful preparation of the assigned reading for each week is expected of everyone; each week one or two students will be responsible for initiating discussion of selected readings. The principal assignment of the seminar is an independent research project/paper which will be presented in class towards the end of the semester.