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.

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).

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.

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