BRYN MAWR COLLEGE, Growth & Structure of Cities Program
City 255. Survey of American Architecture
Fall 2006, T, Th 11:30-1:00, Thomas 224


Assignment A: Finding Now.
How can we try to characterize the current moment in American architecture? Look for an example of architecture from the last decade in the U.S. that has been discussed in articles in contemporary magazines or newspapers or on the Web, and that seems to embody some aspect of the architectural identity of our time. Choose a place for which you can find some critical or interpretive (not just descriptive or appreciative) writings (two, or one if that's all you can find, but it provokes your thinking).

Read those closely. Try to understand this design in terms of its disposition of spaces and its setting as well as its most iconic published faces. From these readings and your own responses to the buildings, consider the choices architects have made, and more broadly, how these works might reflect contemporary architectural trends; do these embody underlying values distinctive of our time? Grab two or three images to briefly demonstrate your points to the class and pop them into very brief PowerPoint presentations. Send those next Monday night or at least an hour before class at the latest, and I'll try to gather them in advance.

Try to get started, finding the readings and making your choice by this Thursday. Then come to class next Tuesday prepared to present and discuss your examples and thoughts on these. Do this singly or in pairs with a partner of your own choosing.
- for 12 Sept.

Assignment B: 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, refering to and using the graphic conventions you're encountering in the books and articles on architecture.

DON'T try to draw a whole building. But do draw a part including 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 (1 inch=4 foot would be a good neighborhood) and correct in proportion of parts only 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 34 x 44' should fit on one 8.5 x 11" sheet).
- Bring this to class with you next Tuesday, 14 Sept.

Assignment C1-5. Period Presentations
Teams of 4-6 students will each in turn prepare presentations to the rest of the class about key developments and trends for one of five chronological units. They will read appropriate sections on their period in each of at least three survey texts, and assertively distill that material to a relative few critical currents in their period for an illustrated presentation to the rest of the class. (That team will skip the D1-5 and E1-5 assignments for their period, where they would read one survey-text portion and some scholarly articles on it.).

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 or 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) in a Power Point presentation.


Assignment D1-5, E1-5 : 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:

We've ordered a few copies of some of these for sale in the bookstore, and some are on reserve in Carpenter, but many of these are generally available in 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), W. Barksdale Maynard, Architecture in the U.S., 1800-1850 (New Haven, 2002), 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 our class discussions of each unit. Take notes as you read, noting any questions or confusion that arises; judge which seem best to bring up for general class discussion and which to bring to me in office hours.

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