BRYN MAWR COLLEGE, Growth & Structure of Cities Program
City 255. Survey of American Architecture
Fall 2005, T, Th 2:30-4:00, Carpenter B25
J. Cohen, Thomas 153


Assignment A: Finding Now.
Looking on the Web, in contemporary magazines, or in the real world, examine two examples of architecture from the last decade in the U.S. that seem to embody some sense of prevailing architectural values. Try to understand each in terms of its disposition of spaces and its setting as well as its most iconic published faces. Choose one of these two for which you can find some critical or interpretive (not just descriptive or appreciative) writing and read that.

From your own responses or readings, consider the bases for choices of form in each, and more broadly, the question of contemporary architectural trends and the underlying values that these embody. Come to class next Tuesday prepared to present and discuss your examples and thoughts on these. Email me your choices as soon as you've made them, and I'll try to steer folks away from coincident examples, and if there are websites or a couple of digital images that you want to show in class, email those to me by Monday night.
due 6 Sept.

Assignment A2: Plan.
From about this point on, the course will be heavy with plans, and it will be good to build up a conversance with them. One wants to be able to read them in terms of circulaton and use, to imagine the spaces they outline, and to find in them an assembly of various glimpses, an integration of the pieces offered by photographic views of different rooms, external vantage points, and the arrangement on the site a building occupies.

Time to try your hand at this. Pick a space that you have ready access to, perhaps a dorm room or a small classroom, and try to draw it in plan using the graphic conventions you're encountering in the books and journals you're looking at.

DON'T try to draw the whole building. But do draw the part of at least one exterior wall bounding the room, and also part of an adjoining space from which the room can be entered -- so that might include the room interior, the full depth of one outside wall, indications of all windows and doors, and at least part of a hall or other adjacent space. Your drawing needn't be precisely measured or ruled, but try to keep roughly to scale (say, 1 inch=4 foot) and correct in proportion to about the nearest foot. Make strong, dark lines, and shade in the wall thicknesses for legibility. The whole should fit on one normal-sized piece of paper (at a scale of somewhere near 1"=4', a subject of as much as 44 x 34' should fit on one 8.5 x 11" sheet).

Bring this to class with you next Tuesday, 13 Sept.

Assignment B1-5: Chrono reading units.
The centerpiece of this course will be an ambitious program of reading that will serve as a basis for class discussion. We'll proceed together through the master narrative in five chronological units. For each, you'll do two different kinds of readings, (a) in survey texts and (b) in focused scholarly or period writings.

(a) For the former of these, choose and read the appropriate chronological part in one of several survey textbooks on American architecture.

Most highly recommended (listed alphabetically) are:

I'll put these on reserve, but we won't order any of these; they or others like them are generally available in most good bookstores, including Borders or Barnes & Noble, etc., and there are two specialized architecture bookstores at 17th & Sansom downtown, Joseph Fox and the AIA bookstore, which will probably have many of these on hand. There are also some good titles that cover only parts of the stretch, such as John Stilgoe, Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845 (New Haven, 1983), and Carter Wiseman, Twentieth-Century American Architecture: The Buildings and Their Makers (New York, 2000), and doubtless others.

Switch around from text to text from unit to unit. But don't automatically leap to the shortest of these (Roth, Concise; Handlin) each time, as the longer ones are usually better illustrated and offer a more satisfying and probing consideration for each place, rather than a kind of hit-and-run, connect-the-dots tempo. Avoid style books like Whiffen's (different than Whiffen & Koeper), Massey's, Blumenson's, or others that serve mainly to help put things into stylistic categories. It would also be best to avoid books that are substantially older than these as survey readings, as they are usually rather dated in their approach.

(b) As for the second part, on focused scholarly or period writings, this is where I'd like you to read adventurously, for each chronological unit, probing a range of different places, approaches, and themes in depth. Most highly recommended are c. 10-25 pp. articles in

Browse these on the shelf. (I've also got a set of photocopies of their tables of contents that I'll put on reserve). Other good articles, of course, are scattered in various journals; watch for citations in bibliographies and footnotes in survey texts mentioned above, and in other articles. (Never settle for just those things that you can locate on-line.) You are also welcome to find and read well-defined chunks of book-length scholarly monographs, on a key building, building type, or architect, for example, but make sure these are probing, not breezy or simply descriptive sources, which would include most architectural guidebooks.

Especially as we get further into the term, there will be fewer pertinent vernacular architecture writings, but there will be more available period writings on our shelves, and you should start to work in more of those, including pieces from old journals or architecture pattern books. A much richer collection is at Penn's Fisher Fine Arts Library, in a Furness building that you'll want to see anyway, and you should plan to introduce yourself to its stacks and rare book room early on.

Finally, there are some very good collected readers, compendia of either shorter scholarly articles or original period writings, including:

SO, lots of reading possibilities -- explore some of the breadth of what out there on our topic. How much? Pursue this energetically, but the minimum would be, for each unit, to read two longer pieces, say15-30 pp., and one or two shorter ones, depending on their length. Check with me if you are uncertain about a reading.

As to your "deliverable," send me an email the night before we take these up for each discussion for each unit. It should do three things:

(a) give exact citations for precisely what you've read, using a format like this:

author, Title (city, year), pp. or
author, "article title," Journal title xx (year): pp. nos. or
author, "article title," in collection author, Collection title (place, date), pp.

(b) in a sentence or two describe the frame of each reading, i.e., the boundaries of the topic, and
(c) in a sentence or two try to capture the point or argument of each piece.

Then be prepared to introduce your thoughts on these readings in discussions of each unit. Take notes as you read, noting any questions or confusion that arises; judge which seems best to bring up for general class discussion and which to bring to me in office hours.
due 15 Sept., 27 Sept., 20 Oct., 1 Nov., 17 Nov.

Assignment C1-5. Period Presentations
Teams of 2-3 students will prepare presentations to the rest of the class about key developments and trends for one of the five period units. They will read appropriate sections for each period in 3-4 survey texts, and distill the main developments of this period in an illustrated presentation to the rest of the class. (Each team will skip the B1-5 assignment for their period).

The goal will be to focus on what the team sees as the most important themes that distinguish architecture in this period, trying to penetrate to the generative shifts in taste, technologies, economics, urbanistic trends, or other forces. Although it may seem the least substantive of these, in just being about visual preferences, try not to underplay changes in taste and the favor for types of form or space that emerge in your period, contrasting them to the preferences of earlier ir later ones.

Once you have decided on the key themes, plan to tell the story in 45 minutes using no more than 6-12 buildings or places to illustrate your points, choosing key images, including PLANS where points are spatial. Gather the materials (images and data, and themes briefly stated) and if you need help I'll work with each team to build a webpage with the images (fully identified) to be used by the class for reference.
due 15 Sept., 27 Sept., 20 Oct., 1 Nov., 17 Nov.

Assignment D2-5. Dated Buildings
As a test of the larger patterning we're encountering in the reading, start shooting/scanning/collecting web-permissable* digital images of firmly dated buildings not found in collections of key examples, buildings that you might pass in your everyday travels that bear datestones or for which you there is other incontrovertible evidence for a precise set of dates. (circa [ca.] dates are not as reliable, often established by eyeball; and exercise skepticism of claims you think suspicious, and watch out for dates that may be of organizational founding rather than building construction). We'll begin putting these into a chronological sequence, and will bring them into each of our period discussions.

* I'll explain in class, but published images are generally copyrighted unless from a publication dated before1924, part of a government publication (like HABS/HAER), or republication has been explicitly stated to be permitted.

Each student should try to contribute one or two images of five buildings, preferably dated in stone. Shoot for some spread in dates. For each image, offer a jpeg or two and send those as attachments (c. 600-1200 px across) and email a note with short captions for each building, with the following in this order: [filename(s).jpg], [year (source)], [building name/address], [town, state], [your initials].
due 29 Sept. for the period II examples, but try to add more for the later periods through the semester.

Assignment E. Short Research Project: Buildings of a Type

Choose three buildings that serve the same function, but constructed at least 30 years apart. Select examples for which you can get good legible plans and a couple of exterior views. Consider and try to account for continuities and for differences in design. Put more emphasis on matters of plan -- arrangement of functions, relation to site -- and on projected imagery than on style and architect.

Bring projectable images to illustrate your points for a ten-minute presentation to your classmates, and hand in as a 4- to 6-page paper .
in-class presentation due 1 Dec.., paper due last day of classes.

Assignment F. Brief Research Exercise [out]

This will be a team exercise that starts during class with assigned research questions, to be pursued in one hour in class and one outside, resulting in a one-page report for the next class.

255assig.html; last rev. 29 sept.. 05 [calendar]