In much the same way that literacy is both cultivated and preserved in books, cultural memory obtains legible shape in buildings, persisting as long as they do. In a time when so much in life seems in flux social norms, family structures, political allegiances, and so on the power of architecture to give practical affairs orientation and stability is especially important. This course will study how architectural settings provide palpable structure for the events of our lives, particularly those events that occur in cities and their institutions, for cities have always been and remain culture's most efficient and eloquent articulation.
The course will be structured in two parts. The first part, much shorter than the second, will be thematic and a-historical. In the opening lectures the basic topics of the course will be introduced, as will be the questions to be asked of the writings, images, buildings, and cities taken up in part two. The second group of studies will look at a number of cities in Europe, the USA, and China. To make the volume of study materials manageable, we will concentrate on developments in the last hundred to hundred and fifty years. The writings of author architects will provide us with some insight into the ways architecture has served a "narrative" function in these cities, but we will also read stories, poems, and parts of novels that augment and enrich those architectural accounts. The idea is that stories about spaces will clarify the ways that spaces are stories.
This course will argue a simple thesis: that the spaces of our lives record the stories of our lives. Architecture and literature will be studied, through built works and texts, the latter from both author-architects and fiction writers (novelists, short story writers, and poets). Urban settings throughout the world will occupy our attention, in Berlin, New York, Paris, Milan, London, Venice, Vienna, Chicago, and Shanghai.
Unlike literature, film, or advertising, architecture performs its signifying role rather quietly and unobtrusively; but this fact does not diminish its capacity to allow us to feel "at home" in many and varied settings. This will be clear to non-architects as soon as they reflect on the role played by domestic arrangements, for even the most prosaic events cannot unfold unless the settings in which they are to occur are "in order." Less clear perhaps, but no less important is the role that architecture plays in our understanding and experience of community, civility, and the common good.