Danish literature as world literature

As part of my struggle with Danish writing and investigation into place writing in Denmark I availed myself of Danish literature as world literature (2017; Amazon w long excerpt) from the library. But just what is world literature?

  • David Damrosch (2003) defined it as literature circulated beyond its culture of origin, ie a phenomenon of reception; what is gained in translation – works take on a new life as they move into the world
  • Pascale Casanova (2005) explored economic factors, eg Marx as world literature characterised by markets and production dynamics

See LJMU’s World literature critical toolbox for more. VG! There are however two threads at work here: the reception of Danish literature in the wider world and, conversely, the reception of ‘world’ literature in Denmark.

“The much-willed international orientation of HC Andersen and Karen Blixen stand out”, sighs the introduction, while Georg Brandes‘ 1871 lectures on Hovedstrømninger i det 19de Aarhundredes Litteratur offer up a cosmopolitan view of literary history founded in Hegelian dialectics of action and reaction and the metaphor of the wave. (See also Om verdenslitteratur, 1899.)

The wave of action from the French Revolution never quite made it to the European periphery of Denmark, but the Romantic reaction did reach its shores, “never left and wound up as a poor replica of itself”. This is typical of the literatures of small nations – some currents never reach them while others linger too long: “people have felt and thought, only on second hand, weaker and more feebly than elsewhere”. However Brandes’ Det moderne Gjennembruds Mænd (1883; kicking off Det Moderne Gennembrud) led to the flourishing of a common Scandi literary culture (challenging his understanding of centre and periphery), an intermediate context as defined by Kundera in Die Weltliteratur, (2007), helping literature to think beyond itself.

Lots of hat-tipping to Moretti, whose tree metaphor is seen in the Danish Golden Age; influenced by German idealism, founded around Oehlenschlager, Steffens and Ørsted, embraced by Andersen, Kierkegaard and Grundtvig, passé by 1871. Using distant reading techniques Julie Kjær Markussen has measured the reception of Danish literature from data on translations (UNESCO’s Index Translationum) and literary holdings (WorldCat; see Ireland example), plus Google search, Google Books Ngram Viewer, Google Trends, Amazon Sales Rank, Goodreads…

Being brought up with the border ballads (Get up and bar the door!) of passing interest was the chapter by Lis Møller (Aarhus). Robert Jamieson’s Popular ballads and songs (1806) included a few Danish ballads, which he translated himself into a Scottish idiom of sorts, followed by 18 more in 1814. Jamieson was an associate of Walter Scott, whose Alice Brand (1810) was inspired by a Danish ballad. Shifting gaze to Germany, Goethe’s Erlkönig is based on a Danish ballad collected by Herder. Grimm also translated several, and Heine cited or paraphrased several more.

The chapter on HC Andersen by Karin Sanders (Uni of California, Berkeley) finds him impatient to plant his words in a wider world; he saw himself as an “orange tree in the swamp” and Denmark as a “duck yard”, stating in 1836: “I am doomed to write for a small country”.

As one of the 10 most widely translated authors in the world HCA “practised two sets of double articulations”: he wrote simultaneously for both a local and a global audience – several of his novels were targeted at a foreign (German or English) audience – and, in his fairy tales, for the child and the adult.

Andersen’s life was a perpetual self-promotional book tour, counter to the accepted social norms of the Danes. His travels allowed him to escape the cultural conformity of a small nation, seeing more clearly what would be muddled up close.

Moving on to Kierkegaard, Isak Winkel Holm (CPH) notes that his reception in Denmark starts out with the peculiarities of his biography and ends with the power of his terminology, in particular im Einzelnen, giving meaning to a lawless and shapeless modern world. His influence on world literature came in three waves:

  • Scandinavian – Georg Brandes’ 1877 monograph, influence on Ibsen, Strindberg, JP Jacobsen and Pontoppidan; later on Karen Blixen
  • Germanophone – on the fin de siècle generation, inc Rudolph Kassner (1906), Lukacs (1909); Rilke learnt Danish to be able to read the original; also Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler and Karl Kraus
  • French – Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, via Kafka

His Anglophone reception was smaller, via WH Auden.

Back to Brandes once more with Annegret Heitmann (Aarhus), who notes that the international significance of the ‘Brandes generation’ was long neglected in Denmark. Once again the Germanic world played a pivotal bridge-building function, with key roles also for Ibsen and Strindberg (the Scandi – transnational – context), leading to a wide overseas reception for all three, with citations by influential readers inscribing them in the global canon.

The prolific Brandes (cf Nietzsche) travelled widely and was possibly the best connected intellectual of the 19th century, writing books on Berlin, Poland and Russia, although his heart belonged to France. Despite his early use of the term ‘modern’, his writing may be seen as akin to naturalism, ie pre-modern.

Of Brandes’ contemporaries, JP Jacobsen (cf Rilke) also travelled, but his life was short and overshadowed by disease, while Herman Bang (cf Thomas Mann) had a curious and cosmopolitan outlook, which together with his homosexuality, led to long periods of exile. He died in an American railway carriage while on a lecture tour intended to span the globe.

Jon Helt Haarder (SDU) looks at two Nobel winners whose novels were at odds with genre conventions and had the general success of Scandi naturalism as a prerequisite:

  • Johannes V JensenKongens fald (1900-01), set in the 15th and 16th centuries, voted best Danish book of the 20th century (Nobel 1944; known also for Paa Memphis Station, poem written in 1903, and his prose poetry)
  • Henrik Pontoppidan – Lykke-Per (1898-1904) voted 2nd best; see also Danske Billeder (1889); one of the greatest chroniclers of his own country, working with irony, hidden narrators and unreliable narration (it says; Nobel 1917, co-winner with Karl Adolph Gjellerup)

Which brings us to Karen Blixen (Lasse Horne Kjældgaard, RUC). Known under several names, it is easier to assign her to the category of world literature than any single national literary tradition. Her Danish reception has focused on biographical and literary approaches (and canonical status), while overseas she has been subject to relentless post-colonial criticism.

Blixen’s works do not fit into any of the conventional narratives of Danish literary history. Her Danish authorship even consists of derived texts – she wrote all her major works in English first (with phrases and syntactic structures which betray her Danish background) and then translated them (with ample Anglicisms) into Danish (a citizen of nowhere, perhaps). As an emigrant she could perceive Denmark and Europe from both the inside and the outside. She did not see herself as a ‘Danish’ author, with Seven Gothic Tales written for a global audience.

She also used intertextuality – Seven Gothic Tales contains more than a thousand literary quotations and allusions. Working like a bricoleur, she used all available ingredients including pieces from classical Danish literature, recycling characters and places imbued with literary significance. Interesting.

Anne-Marie Mai (SDU) looks at Danish poets “in the intersection between modernism and postmodernism”, reflecting a global orientation after WW2. Klaus Rifbjerg travelled to the US shortly after the war, while Villy Sørensen was more into Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kafka and Thomas Mann.

However Rifbjerg quickly became the father figure to revolt against, with new influences from post/structuralism, Japanese poetry and European avant-garde art – see Per Højholt and Inger Christensen, followed by inter alia Hans-Jørgen Nielsen, Dan Turèll, Klaus Høeck (trans John Irons), Peter Laugesen (see Konstrueret situation, 1996), Johannes L Madsen, Kirsten Thorup and Charlotte Strandgaard.

Turèll’s 12 volumes of crime stories were widely translated, although he was so humbled by the Beats he did not even attempt to have his poetry translated: “There are lots like me in America”. It was not until 2016, when Thomas Kennedy translated 24 pages of Vangede Billeder for New Letters (RU sure; also see article in Politiken), that his other writing appeared in translation, perhaps a broader reflection of a revived interest in place.

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s enter (personal favourite) SUT and Michael Strunge in a more open literary landscape, erasing the division between high and popular culture.

All the above are barely published overseas, although occasional Nordic Literary Festivals are staged, and Louisiana Literature, where “world literature becomes a Danish cultural context” attempts to fly the flag. (This does surprise me, as Danish is eminently well suited to #mopo. Maybe it’s tricky too translate without sounding just too barsk.)

As a final hurrah, UCL’s Thomson and Stougaard-Nielsen) look at cultural mobility, crime fiction and television drama. Just what is fuelling Scandimania, beyond the endless media content? Answer: form, in the narrative sense, but also “the material, technological and institutional forms in which they are instantiated, the forms that are the condition of possibility for their mobility”.

Denmark is currently enjoying culturally and historically significant zones of contact, mobilisers who facilitate cultural exchanges and exploit the tension between individual agency and structural constraint, the balance and tension between local and global, new and familiar, setting and story:

Literature does not travel solo and nor does it travel light; it is carried and accompanied by films, television series, translators, publishers, state subsidies, and all manner of lifestyle goods stamped Brand Denmark…and by interlingual and intermedial translation.

Both HCA and Nordic Noir are framed by internationally recognisable genre conventions plus an elementary simplicity of form and content. Danish film and TV drama policy since the 1980s has also played an important role, but key is the concept of the other local, “a kind of tamed local, an aspirational Nordic otherness which returns as a utopia in the guise of a dystopia”, articulated in the shared experience of live blogs and #some, with lots of handy memes:

a process of imagining Denmark, projecting their fantasies onto the dreary backdrop of crime-ridden CPH and its exotic artefacts…in doing so they are also (re-)imagining their own society, often by identifying what is different and lacking…a peculiarly distilled and nebulous version of wider British utopian imaginings about Scandinavia”

Media convergence fostered by social networking, increased mobility and disposable income, a cycle of conversation, ‘buzz’ and consumption understood as a participatory culture or collective intelligence, has led to a world where the at best workmanlike Dicte: Crime Reporter can be featured in the Gdn’s Watch this column.

See also Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen at the Rethinking Scandinavia conference in June 2017, exploring Nordicness noir: the British construction of a Scandinavian utopia for the 21st century and coining his own neologism, a utopian Nordientalism: “Nordic social realities are here treated as alluring, homogeneous, utopian and exotic tourist destinations” (my bolding). Interesting. He also made points re the British creation of its own Nordic culture, eg (the rather less homogeneous) Fortitude. Note also that in a further stab at renaming Scandimania we have Beyond Borealism.

And finally…the latest issue of Scandinavica has the theme of Peripheral figures: British and Irish receptions of Nordic literature and culture, with an historical survey (full text) and articles on inter alia Nordic literary traditions in Orkney and Shetland, poems by RS Thomas on Kierkegaard and Seamus Heaney on the Danish bog bodies.

#FLemi: English as a medium of instruction

English as a medium of instruction for academics, FutureLearn MOOC, four weeks from 26 June, from Soton’s Academic Centre for International Students and the Centre for Global Englishes (@cge_soton):

There has been, in the past, a sense that non-native speakers of English are somehow second best, that native speakers of English have ownership of the language in its best or most correct form. That attitude has changed in recent years, thanks to research into English as it is used in the world today by its millions of users, of whom only around 20%are native speakers. English is the world’s language. It’s a lingua franca.

There is no single standard model of EMI:

  • a university may choose to operate totally in English, including its support services, or take a bilingual/trilingual approach, or teach a certain number of programmes in English
  • an academic may use English in class because the texts the students need to work with are only available in English
  • international experience requires a shared mode of communication; for the most part this turns out to be English
  • in distance learning

In EMI English is the vehicle for instruction through which academic content is conveyed to students – we are not teachers of English, but teachers in English. This is the difference between EMI and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), which has two functions – to teach both content and a language at the same time. (But it’s a continuum – you can decide where you are on it : P)

Points around the study of English as a lingua franca (ELF) or an international language (EIL):

  • the use of English as a lingua franca around the world has shaped the development of English
  • English users in an EMI context frequently adjust the way they speak (accommodate), according to who they’re speaking to or what they’re speaking about, rather than just trying to be ‘correct’
  • they focus on what they feel more comfortable with, but also what is going to be intelligible for the people they’re talking to
  • the aim is to use English effectively in intercultural communication contexts – what is going to be most communicative for each other, not what is going to be most like the way a native English speaker speaks
  • translanguaging – the majority of ELF users are multilingual, hence when a group of people are together speaking in English, if they have other languages in common, they move in and out of those other languages
  • people are often much more comfortable using English in different ways
  • English as a lingua franca takes the pressure off – people no longer feel they have to mimic native English speakers, but can engage in intercultural communication in whatever way is going to be most effective, in that setting, at that time


What kind of English do you expect to hear and use in the classroom – native level? accurate? non-standard? should the standard of language be assessed? what about genre style? does the medium (speaking or writing) make a difference to whether variation in English is acceptable or not?

How important is language accuracy in EMI teaching?

  • correction of language does not often help learning unless it is supported and space is given to reflect and consolidate feedback
  • emphasising correct/incorrect language might reduce communicative effectiveness at moments where genuine communication is key
  • exposure to varieties of expressions, whether ‘standard English’ or not, will help students to prepare for the diverse worlds they will meet outside education
  • students will always have an active role in forming their linguistic identities and choices, so discussing their language development and communicative choices can be a positive way of working together

The labels ‘accurate’ and ‘mistake’ are rarely used in communication research. These ideas are more connected with social judgements of language and speakers than actual language use. In fact, research reveals that communication is a complex and always negotiated process, and that language varies according to context because of how humans communicate.

EMI settings are intercultural settings where English tends to be used flexibly, with speakers drawing on behaviours and resources that go beyond a culturally specific or rule-based ‘English’ taught in some language schools. If we think of language as part of communication rather than as a restricted code to learn, the only model we need to consider is a model of behaviour rather than words and language patterns only.

Facilitating students’ movement towards an academic field requires more than isolated vocabulary and grammar; it requires facilitating effective communication and appropriate treatment of content. Emphasising shortcomings in language and rewarding ‘accurate’ English is likely to alienate and discourage students for whom EMI is a struggle, as would showing off a superior knowledge of the English language compared to them.

If we take this idea of the EMI practitioner not being limited to modelling ‘target language’, we can prioritise effective communication alongside the display and encouragement of positive attitudes to flexible communication.

(This is all very well, but what about the potential for misunderstandings, inaccuracies etc?? and *whispers* what when native speakers can’t understand what’s meant?)

Assessing when accuracy is important (or less so). Is it sometimes more important to be accurate in language use than at other times? How do we decide when it is important?  The issue of how important accuracy in language use is in teaching can be controversial and everyone has their own opinion on how far teachers should use accurate English. Many aspects of language that were previously considered to be errors, whether in grammar or vocabulary, are now acceptable for very many speakers (hmm…).

English used in EMI is a tool for communication, a way of communicating ideas that does not necessarily have a fixed or standard form. English forms can be very varied in EMI settings, as the users and uses of the language, within very different cultural spaces, are very different. Passion and enthusiasm trumps accuracy!

The native speaker issue:

  • can sometimes be less aware of the difficulties that international students face in a multilingual context, and sometimes they make fewer concessions to the difficulties international students may be experiencing
  • are often criticised for being difficult to understand in international settings (article)
  • the effect of a native speaker altering their language to be more intelligible and how others perceived his actions – Joey Barton became famous for changing the way he spoke when he was taking part in a press conference in France, while playing in Marseilles (he mimics French English)
  • communication in EMI settings has its own norms and parameters, which are quite different from the rules of speaking that we might associate with standard English (eg can and can’t sound the same if mumbled…)

English speakers with no other language often have a lack of awareness of how to speak English internationally.

The international university involves an understanding that international university English is not the language of [native English speakers], but a lingua franca in a multilingual setting, and therefore not only is it not native English, but not English only either. But while internationalisation guidelines tend to look favourably on multilingualism and diversity, using English systematically is often seen as important for students’ development and progression. An open language policy allows relatively free and multilingual expression of ideas, with English the core language of assessment, administration and most whole-group interactions.

Intercultural awareness and competence:

  • our messages are loaded with various potential meanings, cultural ways of seeing the world and particular ways of positioning ourselves in relation to others
  • consider whether our interpretations of others’ meanings are what they intended us to understand, and be prepared for the possibility that our meanings have not been received in the ways you meant them to be
  • consider that ways of communicating that you think are ‘intelligent’ or ‘high-status’ could be seen as ‘cold’ or ‘foreign’
  • be aware of othering and stereotyping, often located in people’s thinking (assuming difference, avoiding discomfort and lacking knowledge of others to fill perceived gaps in understanding) and feelings (lack of empathy and emotional engagement)


  • self-awareness – be aware of your own background and preferences, and understand why certain behaviours make sense to us more than others; reflect on how we see ourselves in multiple and flexible ways in order to understand the same agency in others; awareness of the cultural preferences and expectations that we carry with us
  • awareness of others – be prepared for differences in expectations and ways of expressing meaning; empathy and respect for the ways of thinking and behaving that others may have
  • ways of thinking and communicating can enable us to show respect and empathy to those with (what appears to be) different values, behaviours and expectations
  • how can you balance preparing students to communicate within your field (eg genre conventions and ways of thinking) and respecting their communicative choices and identities?

The architectural imagination (3): representation and context

Third post (first | second) on the edX MOOC (course | communityFacebook | Twitter: #gsd1x) from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

What with VideoNot.es  (alternatives: TurboNote | MoocNote) having fallen over and other events I’ve fallen way behind, and will set things on pause for a while – the content is available until the end of February 2018, so I will try to return to the three final modules over the summer. Definitely hard work, but worthwhile.

Update: David Rudlin, new chair of the Academy of Urbanism, on the urbanist and the architect.

Some linkage:

Here’s a summary of the final modules.

Module 8: Drawing utopia: visionary architecture of the 18th century

In the final three modules we deal more directly with architecture’s relationship to its various social and historical contexts. You will learn about what we call architecture’s power of representation and see how architecture has a particular capacity to produce collective meaning and memories.

As a professional practice deeply embedded in society architecture has social obligations and the aesthetic power to negotiate social change, carry collective memories and even express society’s utopian ideals. We’ve already seen this power at work – the first set of modules developed two fundamental prerequisites for representation: form and history. But representation can mean other things as well.

Architecture can perform like a linguistic metaphor or point to its mnemonic function, ie its power to carry memories that are historical, contextual, and collective. Architecture’s power of representation means that it performs like a cognitive map of society, giving us a diagram of society’s deep, complex structures, giving shape to an epoch’s particular character and nature, or linking the memory of different pasts to possible futures.

In this module we look at the work of the French ‘visionary architects’ of the 18th century and their use of architecture as a way of communicating meaning, what they called l’architecture parlante (speaking architecture).

Update, 27 May: had another look at this, and think not for me.

Seems like debates about France’s National Library are nothing new…

Module 9: The Pompidou Centre

In this module you will examine closely one particular example of architecture’s engagement with the culture industry: the Centre Georges Pompidou by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano.

This module puts to the fore not only architecture’s reflection of mass culture, but also architecture’s ability to engage deeply with politics, how a building can be not just an inert object but an active mediator between its historical context and our understanding of that context.

Module 10: Presenting the unrepresentable

In module 10 you will be challenged to conceptualize a work so minimal that some might not think of it as architecture at all; and yet, the project is tasked with the demand to carry the memory of perhaps the most profound of all human traumas.

The Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe designed by architect Peter Eisenman is a project that uses the very abstraction and materiality that is inherent to the medium of architecture. This becomes the device with which to raise questions of architecture’s power of representation rather than answer them.

The architectural imagination (2): enter technology

Second post (first) on the edX MOOC from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where Walter Gropius chaired the architecture department from 1937-52. GSD offered a course on the legacy of the Bauhaus in 2015 and delivers an annual WG lecture. Its digital Bauhaus archive (story | tour) looks fabulous.

According to edX 25K people engaged with the course in week 1, 80% from outside the US (23% from Brazil), with over 100K enrolled. An earlier blog post stresses the intention of encouraging students to “consider architecture as a form of cultural expression as well as a technical achievement…architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated cultural practices there is…helps articulate history itself”, although the course starts by introducing “models, theories, and systems about how to think about architecture systems that transcend historical context and apply to architecture generally” before going on to “look at specific examples about how architecture produces these theories through buildings and projects in particular times and places”.

The lectures are filmed in the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, the only building in North America designed by Le Corbusier. So there.

Notes from weeks 5-7 below, although much more in VideoNot.es to be reused IDC. All quotes edited.

This part of the course addresses technology as a component of architecture’s realization and understanding. Architecture is embedded in contexts where technologies and materials of construction – glass and steel, reinforced concrete – are crucial agents of change. But a society’s technology does not determine its architectural forms.

You will discover ways that innovative technology can enable and promote new aesthetic experiences, or disrupt age-old traditions. You will witness architecture’s ways of converting brute technical means into meaningful perceptions and textures of daily life. The interactions of architecture and modern technologies changed not only what could be built, but also what kinds of constructions could even be thought of as architecture.

In our first set of modules we discussed some of the primary examples of what we might think of as the techniques of the architectural imagination. We discussed typology, which allows for comparison of the formal properties of architectural projects. We talked about the system of perspective understood as a formal construction that links subject to object. And we saw how these formal constructs can be used, both by the historian as analytical tools and by the designer as ways of rationalising architectural decisions.

We then discussed how these formal constructs must always be understood as arising in history, as both enabled and constrained by history. But they’re not exhausted by those historical constraints. Architecture is deeply historical, but it also exceeds its formative origins. It produces memories, but it also produces possible futures.

In the next three modules we’ll be shifting our focus, somewhat, to how architecture has a fundamental relationship to materiality. We’ll look at how modern architecture used technical advances in materials – mainly iron, steel, and glass, but also reinforced concrete – and we’ll look at the modern development of industrial building components. But we don’t leave form behind. We will see how architecture uses these new materials, and new construction techniques, to advance its own expressive possibilities. We’ll discuss how technology gets mediated by the compositional and typological intentions and operations
of the architectural imagination.

Module 5: The Crystal Palace: infrastructure and detail

In module 5 you will begin to explore the core question of part 2: architecture’s fundamental relation to materiality. We first turn to a pivotal moment in the history of glass and steel construction techniques. As Professor Picon states, “Few buildings have marked as important a moment in the history of architecture as the Crystal Palace. Not only was the building emblematic of a new way to build, using iron at a scale unprecedented, it was also a major turning point in terms of its use, since it hosted the first world fair and introduced a whole new spatial experience“.

From the reading, Space, time and architecture (1941; 47 pages? sorry): Sigfried Giedion makes the argument that a “gap…opened in the course of the 19th century between science and its techniques on the one hand and the arts on the other, and hence between architecture and construction”).

Evidence for this idea of a schism between science and art can be found in eg the separate existence of the École des Beaux-Arts and the École Polytechnique, and for the modernist solution to the schism in eg:

  • unpretentious 19th century buildings for public markets, whose designers are not ‘great’ architects
  • the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (1868)
  • quotation by Lothar Bucher (1851): “in contemplating the first great building which was not of solid masonry construction spectators were not slow to realise that here the standards by which architecture had hitherto been judged no longer held good”
  • quotation in L’Esprit nouveau (1924): “The century of the machine awakened the architect. New tasks and new possibilities produced him. He is at work now everywhere.”

While Giedion understands the development of certain industrial construction techniques and materials as necessary technological precursors to modern architecture, he does not consider them ‘proper architecture’ as such…in contrast, Professor Picon suggests that certain properly architectural effects do indeed derive from constructional innovations and new materials.

All very exciting, and rather more accessible for non-architecture students. I even watched the videos, taking notes using the estimable VideoNot.es. Maybe I’ll revisit Kant and Hegel IDC.

Module 6: The dialectics of glass and steel

Giedion emphasised the difficulties in coming to terms with the architectural potentialities of the new materials and construction technologies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, out of which the Crystal Palace produced unprecedented architectural experiences and almost unintentional architectural effects. Next, we’ll pursue examples of the refinement of the aesthetic intention and the very willful expression of the representational power of the new architecture of metal and glass.

We will study examples of architects who, with more explicit intention, sought to expand architecture’s expressive capacity. The perceptual effects of the new materials of metal and glass – including thinness and tautness of wall planes, and the transparency and reflectivity of enclosing wrappers – had to be gauged, and their potentials developed. New spatial freedoms were found in the ability of metal to span large spaces. Load-bearing walls could be eliminated in favour of column grids. At the same time, fundamental questions of the relation of column to wall remained, and architects sought for certainties in theoretical models of spatial organisations.

From stone to steel…architecture, from its very beginning, has been made of stone, and when it hasn’t been made of stone, it’s been made to look like it has. Windows may have glass in them, but windows in a stone wall are simply openings. The glass itself is not important.

The development of technologies that allowed the production of large sheets of glass and materials with tensile strength, like steel, had the power to enormously change the way buildings are made. But how would that necessarily affect architecture? How would that change architecture’s representational function? How would that change architecture as the art of building?

The advances in modern technology and the invention of new materials were not an inevitable helpful contributor to the goals of architecture culture. How can one apply an already existing symbolic architectural language developed over thousands of years as an expression of the heavy compressive forces in masonry, to lightweight and thin structures of metal and glass? How does one achieve the requisite monumentality and profundity with such flimsy materials? This was the primary problem for the architects of the 20th century.

In the lecture you will learn how four architects interpreted Gottfried Semper’s model of the primitive hut and appropriated it as an example of a ‘universal’ organising type to one of their buildings (I have notes):

The four fundamental architectural elements of the hut:

  • hearth and fire, associated with the industrial crafts of ceramics and metal (fire is the beginning of society itself, and it needs the help of architecture to lift it off the earth)
  • base, associated with masonry (the base elevates the hearth, and the material associated with this is masonry, with its inherent attachment to the earth)
  • roof and support (tectonic frame), associated with carpentry (deviating from the classical understanding of a trabeated system, Semper theorised a kind of tectonic assembly that would rise from the masonry base, where the walls and the roof together formed a tectonic system)
  • enclosure, associated with weaving (Semper didn’t imagine the enclosing membrane would be the same as the stereotomic system of masonry; rather, he imagined that the enclosing membrane was a cloth or a tapestry or some sort of woven material)

Example of transposing Semper’s architectural elements to Behrens’s factory, describing the constructional technique or material associated with the element:

The AEG base is concrete, so it is a slight transformation from Semper’s brick base. But, in contrast to brick, which is laid or stacked, concrete is poured and cast, involving formwork and processing.

Your starter for 10…

You have now become familiar with the dominant forms of architectural representation and have learned how to read plans, sections, elevations, and perspective drawings. Now synthesise your knowledge and produce a reading of a building as a whole in an expository essay of 750 words (or about 5 paragraphs).

In an expository essay, the writer explains an idea, theme, or issue using personal opinion and specific evidence in the form of examples, definitions, comparison, and contrast. As with other forms of representation that we’ve explored, writing contains a point of view. Make an argument for how Mies’s use of materials operates to suture what Sigfried Giedion called the ‘schism’ between architecture and technology.

Module 7: Technology tamed: Le Corbusier’s machines for living

In the last module we focused on examples of how modern architects brought the new materials of metal and glass, and the new programmatic demands of industrial and commercial building, into the corpus of the great architecture of the past, while at the same time producing unprecedented expressive effects.

Now we will learn of another modern architect’s extraordinarily inventive of use of new materials and construction systems. For Le Corbusier the inherent properties of reinforced concrete were crucial for the development of his architectural ideas, most notably as expressed in his domestic buildings.

When you consider Corb’s ‘machines for living’ don’t think just of how machines look (the so-called ‘machine aesthetic’). Instead, think of a machine as an organized assemblage of parts that connect and perform in different ways. You may also be prompted to recall Alberti’s use of geometry and proportional systems to organize diverse building parts, or Palladio’s logic of the villa type. Corb brings similar compositional techniques into his habitation-machines.

You will explore in detail three of Corb’s villas and learn how his Five points formed a theoretical model for the possibilities of reinforced concrete – a material which provided an opportunity to break free from the constraints of load-bearing masonry walls.

Both Behrens and Mies, in different ways, maintain deep connections to the ongoing classical tradition in their new architecture of steel and glass. They use classicism to tame technology in order to give representation to the new corporations that arose from technical and economic advances.

But there are other ways of exercising aesthetic control over standardisation and mass production and of producing architectural effects with new technical means. We next look at a powerful example of how new techniques of concrete construction supported the pictorial and spatial elaborations of what Le Corbusier, called his ‘machines for living’.

The Dom-ino house is an open floor plan structure designed by Corb in 1914. A combination of the Latin word domus and innovation, the house is more of diagram than a building, a ‘chassis’ onto which any number of variations of houses can be outfitted. A kind of primitive hut of the modern, it was a prototype of potential of the new technology of reinforced concrete, glass and steel, an objet-type, an example of the materialisation of pure form, refined over time to become more perfect (see the 1922 Ozenfant House).

The three villas (I have notes): Villa La Roche (1925), Villa Garches (1927), Villa Savoye (1931).

Corb developed his five points of a new architecture (1921) as a result of putting the Dom-ino system into practice:

  • the pilotis – a grid of columns that lifts the floor slab above the earth; a reversal of the classical podium, which anchors the building to the earth, and a rejection of the traditional domestic basement, which Corb regarded as dank and unhealthy, leaving ground level open for recreation, circulation, transportation etc
  • the roof garden/terrace – for exercise or leisure; replaces the pitched roof and the attic with an open air room recalling pre-industrial life lived more outside, a regenerative inspiring and hygienic force
  • the free plan – created by freeing the columnar structure from interior partitions; allows a much more open arrangement allowing an interpenetration of spaces one into the other, often including ramps and stairs that guide the body through a spatial ‘narrative’
  • the ribbon window – a corollary of the free facade, a window that can be cut into a wall as the wall is not load-bearing; negates the idea of a framing window which is about one individual positioning himself in a vertical rectangle; instead one long horizontal window producing a panorama, a cinematic rather than a painterly version of a window
  • the free facade – a thinner wrapper that encloses the building and emphasises its volumetric qualities over static compression; establishes the compositional pictorial availability of the wall, allowing the window to be extended without interruption and other kinds of opening, more varied and composed geometrically and visually rather than determined constructionally or structurally

How did reinforced concrete determine each of the five points?

All this came together in an architectural promenade (Quora | THES & Flora Samuel)  as demonstrated in the Villa Savoye, the synthesis of the genre begun with the Dom-ino diagram.

On concrete (Stanislaus Von Moos):

Concrete, it might seem, is less likely to determine architectural form than any other building material. Its early use in 19th century building had little impact upon style; it merely supplied architects and the building industry with a universally applicable means of crystalising and multiplying existing formal vocabularies. Being malleable, it provided carte blanche for any sort of eclecticism.

Yet, parallel to the use of concrete as tectonically neutral ‘plastic’ mass, the 19th century discovered other possibilities inherent in the new material. Once applied under the conditions of strict economy, reinforced concrete proved capable of producing better structural results with less material bulk than any previously known material with the exception of the steel frame. Only in combination with economy, that is, the principle of achieving maximum results with a minimum of work, could concrete become the starting point for an architectural renewal. This is what happened in the works of the French pioneers of concrete building, and it was from here that Le Corbusier and some of his contemporaries proceeded in their attempts at translating the possibilities of concrete construction into a new architectural vocabulary.

The task this week was to design your own villa in the manner of Le Corbusier, well beyond me, but we have a couple of tweets:

And a vid from the GSD team (there’s no sound, folks):

The control of movement and view in the work of Le Corbusier produces an almost cinematic concept of representation. It is this dynamic spatiality that in some way supersedes the perspectival mathematical stability of Brunelleschi and Alberti. The account of Le Corbusier, then, recapitulates some of the early principles of the course and is a good transition to the final set of modules.

Bybilleder: writers and artists on Copenhagen

Update: I’ve now also had a look at another new find, Her er DK (2017) – see the foot of the post for details

Place writing in the British mould is thin on the ground in Denmark so I have to take what I can get.

Bybilleder: kunstnernes og forfatternes København (2016) consists of 75 snippets from Danish literature over the past 250 years set against 75 paintings, selected and presented by art historian Bente Scavenius and literary critic Bo Tao Michaëlis; 360 pages for DK 399. Reviews: Kopenhagen Magasin, Litteratursiden, Love Copenhagen.

Another of those too-big-to-handle offerings from Strandberg, this one had generøse bidrag from a total of nine fonde, but still could hardly be considered an impulse buy. Borrowed from the library on a 14 day loan, so an academic style read will have to suffice. And I’m not likely to buy it as a trophy to sit on a shelf.

In the authors’ respective forewords there’s lots of the usual glowing prose which sucks the life out of me: for BSc it’s a hyldest to Copenhagen, an oplevelse, noget til inspiration for hjerte og hjerne…then we’re heads down into the paintings and the extracts, some on different coloured paper, mainly poetry, often so short as to feel pointless (probably the shortest contribution is eight lines Uden titel (1969) from Inger Christensen), and in largish print, introduced at considerably more length by our two authors, with brief biographical notes pointing to the subject’s main works.

We are taken chronologically through the great and the good, uncritically and seemingly unselectively. It’s an encyclopedia, a reference book – a text book, even – in presentation and style. What aids are there? Zilch – just an a-z list of authors and source without page numbers, nothing for the paintings. I’d quite like to know there are two pieces from HuskMitNavn, feks, and an index by place and a timeline wouldn’t go amiss either. There are some nice pieces, but it doesn’t come together as a whole, lacking comparisons between the genres and any form of analysis. And psychogeography it ain’t – the excerpts may mention a place, but it’s rare they are _of_ a place. Which tends to be the problem, as identified already.

The usual place related suspects (from Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson to Amalie Laulund Trudsø via Hermann Bang and Tom Kristensen) are represented in the 75 strong selection, of which I have probably heard of around two thirds of the writers and a third of the artists. Sadly, there is no space for Asger Jorn’s Fin de Copenhague – he is instead represented by Døddrukne danskere (1960) –  but there is room for a poem apiece from half-Danish film actor Viggo Mortensen and a certain Prins Henri (husband of the queen), which I originally thought was a performance art style joke. It passes without comment from BTM.

A quartet of artworks which caught the eye:

  • Allan Otte’s Nørrebro udtræk (2014) – a 10m x 1ocm frieze of Nørrebrogade, with places moved around to fit and no people (which is his thing); commissioned by Nørrebro Teater
  • Niels Strøbek’s Gårdparti i seks dele (1970) – representation of a typical apartment building in the brokvartere
  • Peter Land’s Copenhagen 11. December 1999, Hurricane II (2000) – portraying Copenhagen’s great storm, when everything was up in the air
  • Jesper Christiansen’s Ved et torv om morgenen (2013) – Gammeltorv, one of a series of paintings produced for Københavns Byret; Kierkegaard lived nearby, taking his daily menneskebad down Routen, as Strøget was called at the time

This last is complemented by Morten Søndergaard’s M for Marmor (2011), taken from Bakkehusalfabet (in lib) which he wrote while in residence at Bakkehuset, and more than short enough to reproduce here:

M for Marmor

Carrara-marmor med indskrift

Husene taler med deres mærkelige marmorpladstemmer: “Her skrev Grundtvig”, “her boede Søren Kierkegaard”, “her blev Hans Christian Andersen født”. Men hvem er det, der taler? Det er, som om husene er udstyret med stenstemmer, so hakkes ud på gavle og facader. Hvem siger noget? Er det tiden selv? Her! Der! Den! Dengang! Vi går forbi og tænker hvert sit. Aha, det var altså mindeværdigt, aha, den person var altså værdig til marmorens evighed. Stenord og stensætninger finder plads i arkitekturen, det bløde kød skal mindes i hård sten. Men hvem er det, som siger noget med husets mund?

Søndergaard is musing on the voices behind the marble plaques found in Copenhagen, emanating from houses and cut out of facades. Who is speaking – is it time itself? Is one person more worthy of an eternal memory in marble than others? Flesh memorialised in stone…who is speaking through the mouth of the house?

BTM sees the setting of plaques on buildings as the Protestant equivalent of the pilgrimage to relics and shrines. Dating from the 19th century, when public interest in the lives of artists exploded and the enlightened bourgeoisie began to make pilgrimages to cultural places, today it is a form of tourism, encouraged by turistbranchen.

This tickled me, not least because there are so few plaques in Copenhagen, and those there are, are so understated as to be practically invisible. Signage is also limited. Evidence of history is hard to find on the streets.

To finish…the more Danish books I look at the more I wonder at the differences between the UK and Danish markets, a reflection perhaps of general cultural differences. For many Danes the UK is bad taste corner, while Brits gape at Danish lampshades. Style, design, call what you will, is downplayed in the UK in favour of verbal dexterity and understatement. While in Denmark another new place-based title, Her er DK, is hailed for its lovely design.

And Strandberg do lovely things, if shading into something to look at rather than to read. For the record, here’s a pick of their other publications from urbanist corner:

Her er DK (2017; FB): “en bog om ukendte steder og oversete seværdigheder”; 217 writers contribute overlooked places throughout Denmark; examples include Cykelslangen (hardly overset, Martin Zerlang!); for the record, it’s DK 349 for 270 pages, some weird sub-A4 size; reviews: Jyllands Posten (paywall), Søren Ryge in Politiken (seemingly not asked); all very lovely and unlikely to scare the horses.

Purloined from the library, I note that the book is described as “et geografisk opslagsværk”, ie it’s not intended to be read from cover to cover; and it certainly feels like something to leaf through rather than read, although that may be because it’s brand new and from the library. It’s so pristine you feel like you should be wearing white gloves to handle it.

A Peter Plys (aka Winnie the Pooh) epithet at the start sets the tone: “Hvad slags historie holder han mest af? Han vil helst høre en historie om sig selv.”

There’s a geographical arrangement, starting with Nordvest, by coordinates rather than region, now that’s novel. The contributor is noted with initials not by name at the end of each piece. The contributions are often v short, too short to make much of a lasting impression. We have registre by place and name, which cross-refer to page number rather than place, that’s just annoying; I couldn’t be bothered to juggle the book to refer back to some, and I have a hunch that the list is on the website anyway (yes! See Hvem og hvor). As ever, I’m left wondering who the target market is (and how much quasi-public support it got) – for me, disappointing, although alternative forms of presentation might have helped.

While the choice of place tends mainly to the lovely, Vestegnen has three entries:

  • Rødovre: Damhustorvet, or “porten til Vestegnen”, by MSQ (Maria Skov Quistgaard, journalist, Information)
  • Albertslund: photo of Bytorvet, by VCB (Vesle Cosman Brøndum, kunstner)
  • Hvidovre: Friheden by NEO (Najat El Ouargui, strategisk analytiker ved Rigspolitiet)

Defining the urban: boundaries and jurisdictions

Notes on a conference on boundaries and edges, due not least to my living within a stone’s throw of Wonderful Copenhagen.

Boundaries and jurisdictions: defining the urban (#UHG2017) was the 2017 conference of the University of Leicester’s Centre for Urban History (@CUHLeicester), taking place on 30-31 March.

Boundaries define towns and cities; jurisdictions legitimate those authorised to manage areas within them. While cities frequently annexed adjacent areas as a means of extending their authority, peripheral townships, regional jurisdictions and individual landowners have often resisted that process of absorption and the consequential loss of identity and autonomy. Do cities transmit ideas and ideologies to areas beyond their boundaries, urging compliance with administrative procedures and participating in infrastructural projects governing health, education, and transport? Were economies of scale in service provision a force for urban amalgamation? How have inhabitants navigated and perceived these boundaries, and what effects have they had on movement or identities? The conference will explore this theme of the urban ‘edge’.

Understanding where and what the edge is, though, is complex. Municipal authority is, of course, not bounded just by the city limits, but also by innumerable internal boundaries; boundaries that are not neutral in their management or their construction. We all live in multiple authorities – parishes, districts (school, medical, electoral), neighbourhoods, conservation areas, economic and regeneration zones. Myriad internal boundaries exist whose spatial extents rarely overlap and authority over them is vested in a mixture of legal bodies and informal authority. Informal authority reigns where the boundaries of mental maps are shaped by custom and practice – ‘safe’ areas, ‘red light’ districts, pedestrian precincts, ethnic and religious concentrations. The mosaic of overlapping boundaries and jurisdictions questions the use of the term city, since urban environments constitute so many different cities.

Sessions on the permeability of borders included Anna Feintuck (Embra) on Leith, amalgamated into Edinburgh in 1920 against the will of a plebiscite. The session on boundaries, space and traversing the city included the boundaries of social space and improvement, ie public parks.

Crossing and defining the urban and rural included Tracey Logan (IHR) on Chiswick, sounding a little like Hvidovre’s experience:

Chiswick’s mid-19th century experience of life near the urban edge, eight miles west of St Paul’s, reveals how new and shifting metropolitan boundaries dramatically shaped its development and identity. Those boundaries were topographical and sanitary, ideological and political and shunned by Chiswick for their cost, not ideology. Its response was ancient and modern, the defensive beating of parish bounds and litigation.

Chiswick, mainly agricultural in 1849 but by 1867 on the cusp of industrialization and urbanization, had much in common with other contemporary parishes near big cities. Their priorities and even basic amenities were subsumed by costly, metropolitan utilitarianism and its voracious land-and-rates-grabbing. Chiswick’s case illustrates what it meant to be first granted, then denied a metropolitan identity by Acts of Parliament in quick succession. One consequence was its disappearance from newspaper columns, whose focus became the big city, to the detriment of historiography.

Places like Chiswick became part of an ill-defined ‘suburban’ entity, assumed dominated by housebuilding, railways and Villa Toryism, seen in relation to the big city but banal by comparison with its cut and thrust of power politics and commerce. When Disraeli’s Reform Act sought to extend London’s boundary westwards again, Chiswick pushed back on financial, not ideological, grounds, but with ideological consequences for its working classes, thus denied the vote. Owen showed no uniformity in the parochial response to metropolitan inclusion. Now a new study, including new tools, shows no uniform response to metropolitan exclusion. In this presentation, about a case study of Chiswick, the forging of an extra-metropolitan urban identity will be discussed and illustrated in ways conventional sources cannot.

The Space Syntax Lab Session (@SpaceSyntaxNet) looked at the role of spatial infrastructure in definitions of urban community:

Urban community is a place-bound idea typically represented by physical boundaries such as walls, courtyards and gates but the spatial configuration of urban street networks also serves to bring people together and keep them apart. Research in urban history using space syntax methods can help reveal how socially significant boundaries have emerged where particular topographical conditions, infrastructural interventions and patterns of urban development have distinguished regions of the street network as threshold or transitional areas in configurational terms. The spatial-morphological description of these liminal spaces is important in accessing, as it were, the ‘deep structure’ of urban neighbourhoods and jurisdictions. It also suggests why the power to disregard, as much as to assert, the authority of customary boundaries is a reliable analogue for the exercise of social power.

Investigating these themes involves undertaking historical research of sufficient temporal scope for the interplay of socio-spatial, socio-economic and cultural processes to become evident in the configuration of urban space. This extended time-scale begs the question of the urban streetscape as a source of communal memory that can serve both to perpetuate and undermine the legitimacy of historical boundaries. This panel presents three papers that address these themes over a time-scale from c.1800 to the present day. They draw on the theories and methods of space syntax to explore the configurational dimension of urban boundaries as these have represented, contested, fragmented, consolidated and enlarged the definition of urban and suburban communities over time.


  • Chipping Barnet: urban edge or suburban centre? (Laura Vaughan; @urban_formation & Ashley Dhanani, UCL) – The traditional narrative of London’s suburban history claims that the coming of the railways transformed previously “knowable communities” (Williams, 1969) into something like ‘edge cities’ dominated by anonymous commuters, ultimately ‘engulfing’ these with less affluent populations, disconnected from their locale. The problem with such narratives is that they present urbanization as proceeding in linear stages: from local village, to connected suburb, to urban sprawl. Yet the peripheries of growing cities are messy and dynamic environments, comprising diverse spatial morphologies, topographies and socio-economic structures; hybrid socio-spatial forms that are not easily classified typologically. This paper will take the example of Chipping Barnet, the site of a twelfth-century market situated on the old North Road out of London as an example of an edge-city settlement characterized by a hybrid spatial morphology and the persistence of multiple social affiliations maintained across space…Barnet’s history as a place, therefore, has been forged historically both spatially, in relation to its immediate community, and across space, in relation to the surrounding counties and London.
  • London railway terminals: segregation and the inner ‘edge’ city (Tom Bolton, UCL)
  • Place-situated historic photographs in European cities: negotiating the temporal boundaries of urban community (Sam Griffiths & Garyfalia Palaiologou, UCL) – this paper interrogates the recent phenomenon of European municipal authorities situating physical and digital historic photographs of public spaces in their equivalent contemporary locations. It develops the concept of the ‘virtual community’ from space syntax theory to discuss the important questions place-situated photographs raise for the historical understanding of urban communities in relation to changes and continuities in the built environment of cities.

See also:

The architectural imagination (1): form and history

EdX MOOC from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (based in The Trays), started 28 February, runs for 10 weeks. All quotes edited.

The study of architecture allows us to see culture representing its own values to itself and affords us access to a kind of knowledge about culture and history that would not otherwise be available.

Architecture is not just about the need for shelter or the need for a functional building. In some ways, it’s just what exceeds necessity that is architecture. And it’s the opening onto that excess that makes architecture fundamentally a human endeavour.

Architecture is a technical answer to a question that’s not technical at all, but rather is historical and social. The study of architecture is the study of human thought and human history. This is about the architectural imagination. It’s how to think about architecture, but it’s also about architecture as a mode of thought.

Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated and globally recognised cultural practices, both as an academic subject and a professional career. Its production involves all of the technical, aesthetic, political, and economic issues at play within a given society. And indeed, in some ways, architecture, as we’ll see, helps articulate history itself.

These are all big claims. And we’ll need big ideas to address these claims. And we’ll also need very specific, concrete examples of architectural projects and events from history.

Goals of the course

Architecture engages a culture’s deepest social values and expresses them in material, aesthetic form. In this course you will learn how to ‘read’ architecture as a cultural expression as well as a technical achievement. Over the course of ten modules we’ll examine some of history’s most important examples that show how architecture engages, mediates, and expresses a culture’s complex aspirations.

In this course you will learn:

  • how to read, analyse and understand different forms of architectural representation
  • social and historical contexts behind major works of architecture
  • basic principles to produce your own architectural drawings and models

The first part of the course introduces the idea of the architectural imagination as a faculty that mediates sensuous experience and conceptual understanding.

Two examples of the architectural imagination – perspective drawing and architectural typology – are explored through video presentations and hands-on exercises.

You will be introduced to some of the challenges involved in writing architectural history, revealing that architecture does not always have a straightforward relationship to its own history.

Module 1: The architectural imagination: an introduction

In our first module we borrow the framework of the imagination from the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose work has been very influential on the study of architecture. For Kant imagination is the necessary mediation between the senses with which we experience the world and the cognitive processes through which we understand it.

A preliminary model of the architectural imagination: the mental process of constructing a schema that organizes our perceptions of an architectural project or set of projects.

Very theoretical…luckily we have sketchnotes:

More practical was the optional vid on perspective:

The basic distinguishing feature of perspective – a way of seeing the world – is as a drawing in which parallel lines converge at infinity, way off in the distance. The place where these lines converge, which we can think of as being infinity, or far, far, far away, is called a vanishing point, placed on what we call the horizon.

This means that things that are closer to you will seem larger and things that are farther away will seem much smaller, even if these two objects are actually the same size.

There are three major kinds of perspective drawings –  one point, two point, and three point, differentiated by the number of vanishing points used. In a three point drawing there are two points on the horizon, where the parallel lines converge to the left and right, and one on a vertical line, where parallel vertical lines converge to a vanishing point far above us. This is especially useful for tall buildings.

And on orthographic (perpendicular) drawings:

  • the plan – a horizontal cut (usually 1.2m above the floor) through the building that lets us see how the different rooms and spaces are arranged
  • the section – cutting vertically through the building, generally on the most important axis of the building
  • the elevation – cut well in front of the building; in particular for showing the composition of the facade

Draw a floor plan

Choose a space that you are intimately familiar with – your home, your workplace or a favorite public space – that has at least three discrete and adjacent rooms.

By hand, draw a floor plan of your space. Carefully chose the height of your cut line so that the plan includes all the information you find important. Make sure to indicate locations of doors, windows, and walls.

You may choose to include secondary information you find important, such as furniture or decorative elements. Do not use a ruler to measure; however, make sure to pay close attention to relative dimensions. Choose a method of measurement that is appropriate for the space — for example, you could measure a length of a wall by counting your paces alongside it. Be sure to include an indication of your units of measurement on your drawing.

Write one to two paragraphs reflecting on the experience. How did the method of measurement you chose influence the way you drew the space? How did you decide on where you would cut the plan? In observing your space and drawing it, did you see anything new or surprising you had not noticed before?

Must break my drawing phobia…meanwhile, some examples from the class:

Module 2: Reading architecture: column and wall

We examine another historical example of the use of the architectural imagination to interpret an architectural project. Rudolph Wittkower analyzes Leon Battista Alberti’s designs for four different church facades as a single pursuit of an ideal façade type, beginning with Alberti’s assertion that the principal element of architectural ornament is the column. He then moves on to associate the column with proportion and measure – the “classical idea of maintaining a uniform system of proportion throughout all parts of a building”.

This abstract approach is an important first step in demonstrating that architecture is a mode of knowledge. When we normally consider architecture, we include its function, materials, techniques of construction and its physical and social context, as well as its formal property or aesthetics…to really focus on architecture as exceeding mere building we have to detach a portion of that common-sense world and establish some aesthetic distance from ordinary concerns…for just a time we free architecture from its function, but we also free ourselves from our own interests, and prejudices and expectations.

This part of our model borrows from Kant’s theory of aesthetics. It’s highly intellectual. It’s self-reflexive and recursive. And it’s very abstract – a philosophical exercise, not an historical analysis.

Note that Wittkower’s Architectural principles in the age of humanism (1949) strongly influenced modernism, due to its revolutionary approach to the understanding of geometry, modular pattern and the ways in which diagrams can be used.

Module 3: Hegel and architectural history

The first two modules of this course sought to open up a vision of architecture as a project of imaginative formal speculation. Wittkower’s interpretation of the work of Alberti gave us an example of a Kant-inspired historian attributing to architecture the status of an ongoing formal project – a project of speculation and conjecture that takes place in the architectural imagination.

We now want to put the idea of a formal project into dialectical play with the movement of architecture through history. In Module 3, we will complement Wittkower’s interpretive project by insisting on the historical dimension of architecture, indeed the historical determination of architecture’s formal project. Architecture changes through time because society and culture change through time, and architecture is inextricably tied to the social.

To return to history is to return this internal world constructed by architecture, this world of aesthetic perfection, to the more robust world in which we all reside.

How do cultures represent themselves to themselves through their art? In this module you will explore a model for a philosophy of art history as expressed by the German idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The very idea of art as having a history, a progression, comes from Hegel, and you will learn more about his attempt to “gather up all the cultures and all the epochs of art into a single, coherent, unified system…a system wherein art discloses truths about the world by giving those truths appearance”.

Beauty is, for Hegel, the perfect harmony of form and function. His division of symbolic, classical, and romantic is then partially generated by the fact that beauty can be either achieved (classical architecture) or not achieved (symbolic and romantic art), and that this failure to achieve beauty can be either the result of the inability to conceive of beauty’s form/function harmony (symbolic architecture), or the result of the conscious acknowledgement that beauty is impossible given architecture’s opaque and insistent materiality (romantic architecture).

John Sallis makes the point that Kant’s system of the imagination allows him to distinguish between beauty or art, on the one hand, and knowledge or truth, on the other. Hegel, by contrast, develops a concept of art in which art is not only a matter of sense and feeling but also of truth.

Sketchnotes please…

Module 4: Aldo Rossi and typology

In the first three modules, we’ve built up our idea of the architectural imagination with two fundamental components: the understanding of form and the experience of history. In this final module for Part I, we give one more example of the architectural imagination at work.

The modern Italian architect Aldo Rossi, perhaps, shares Hegel’s understanding that architecture is one of the fundamental human postulates of our existence in the world. For Rossi, too, architecture is a central medium of human thought and human memory. But in Rossi’s work, we find the suggestion that architecture’s origin is not simply behind us, as Hegel insisted, but that architecture is constantly finding its origin again and again, and that this beginning must constantly be reimagined. The imagination uses historical precedents to create new architectural projects.

Adolf Loos: “If we find a mound six feet long and three feet wide in the forests, formed into a pyramid, shaped by a shovel, we become serious and something says, ‘someone lies buried here.’ That is architecture.”

From the quiz…the idea of architecture as something with a history comes to us from Hegel, and Rossi explores this in his own unique way. For Rossi, an understanding of type is not merely visual or perceptual, rather his architecture engages the full sensorium of its experience. It is a structural and formal urban fact and complex experience.

Rossi understood architectural tradition as an extrapolation of the formal world of antiquity. FALSE:  Rossi’s concept of type allows him to sample from a far greater range of objects and periods of history. For example, in the Monument to the Italian Partisans at Cuneo, Rossi uses the concept of type to construct a monument that links to earlier commemorative monuments, perhaps to ancient examples as well as to modern ones, but not to any specific one monument from a particular historical style.

The architectural type is a primary means of communicating meaning through architecture. Architectural types, specifically those in the urban context, persisted despite changes in the functions and uses of the buildings. Rossi’s classic example of the persistence of type is the coliseum in Lucca, where the formal element remains legible despite functional change from coliseum to marketplace to housing.

Typology is intended to link new architectural projects to collective memories. Rossi’s work used the concept of typology to link architectural projects to collective memories. In Giovanni Antonio Canal’s (Canaletto) Capriccio con Edifici Palladiani, Rossi provokes us to examine the fantasy view of Venice as a means to describe the power of architecture to access an idea of the total city, albeit virtually. For Rossi, architecture is producing knowledge of the world beyond itself. To finish, here’s an article about Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena.

Otherwise, sketchnotes, please!

Two exercises follow, which the class did fabulous things with.

Build a model 

In previous exercises, you have explored conventions of the predominant drawing types of the architectural profession: the plan, the section, the elevation, and the perspective. In this prompt, you will become familiar with another major form of architectural representation: the physical model.

Just as perspective and orthographic drawings were used historically for the purpose of representation and construction, architects made scale models to represent their ideas. These models were useful not only for the architects and builders themselves, but also as a means to demonstrate architectural ideas to the public.

Aldo Rossi’s project for the Monument to the Resistance in Cuneo is based on a cube of 12 meters. It is represented by simple but precisely drawn plans, sections, and elevations. Spare as they are, the drawings contain all the information needed to construct a three-dimensional model of the project.

Your assignment is to construct a physical model of the Cuneo project at a scale of 1:100 (drawings provided; idiot’s guide).

Transform a type

Prompt B asks you to draw and compare diagrams that display transformations of architectural types. You will apply the concept of architectural type, first, to analyze an architectural project, and then, to transform that project to produce variants of the type deduced from a preceding formal organization, ie begin with simple typological elements and then transform and combine them into new organizations.

Find the constituent elements of the project: column, extruded triangle, extruded rectangle, and stair. After you’ve identified these elements, diagram two new possible variations for the project, changing the relationships among the elements to create your variations. You may use two of any one of the elements. For example, you may use two columns or two stairs but not two columns and stairs. Or you may double the length of the wall, but not of the wall and the extruded triangle. (Example diagrams provided.)