Introduction to Modern and Contemporary Architecture

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

This course is an introduction to architecture of the twentieth century. We will identify, describe, and analyze the established canon of masterpieces by architects such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and many others. We will also look at key movements and pedagogical approaches in architecture, such as Bauhaus, Rationalism, Structuralism, Postmodernism, Brutalism, and Deconstruction. Throughout the course, students will learn the appropriate architecture historical terminologies to interpret form, style, structure of the built environment, and to consider buildings and cities within the social, political, and historical context in which they were designed and used. We will examine architecture’s exchange with other artistic mediums, including painting, sculpture, and photography. Students will see different examples from across the globe to understand the cross-temporal, transnational influences on the design of the built environment.

This course will have a local fieldtrip to visit architectural sites in Providence to understand buildings in their urban context. The course assignments will help students develop analytical skills and learn methods of research and writing appropriate for college.

This course presents an overview of major designers, buildings, movements, and theories that characterize the architecture of the twentieth century across the globe. It emphasizes different ways of understanding the built environment, oscillating between the longue durée of architectural history and close examinations of canonical works.

We will begin by focusing on the development of modernism in architecture, not as a unified movement that evolved teleologically, but as a multi-stranded narrative with competing definitions. Influential architects such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright had different ideas of what modern architecture stood for, and they attributed different causes to its formation. We would attempt to understand their perspectives through close readings of their writing and deep analysis of their design. We will also learn about modernism’s relationship with politics. Different nations in the early twentieth century utilized architecture as a political tool to assert power, thus employing the built environment as a form of propaganda. Comparative examples include the architecture and urban plans of Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany. One of the most important factors that distinguished the modern architecture movement was the industrial transformations that produced new materials and generated stylistic shifts. In this regard, we will examine architecture’s relationship with allied disciplines, especially with engineering.

The course will continue to examine contemporary architecture by looking at the legacy of modernism and the rise of new movements such as structuralism, postmodernism, and deconstruction. We will investigate the ways in which architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Rem Koolhaas reacted to earlier architectural trends and developed new styles. To understand the architects and built environment of this period more deeply, we need to consider architecture as part of larger theoretical movements and not as an isolated design practice. In addition to studying major figures, we will also address vernacular architecture, housing developments (eg. social housing, utopian communities, postwar suburbs, etc.), and approaches to sustainability.

The emphasis of this course is on connections and influences, between architects, structures, disciplines, historical references, etc. This approach encourages a broader understanding of the built environment, and as such, prepares students to pursue different academic studies.

Students will be familiar with the major architects, movements, buildings, and urban projects of the twentieth century. Students will learn to describe and analyze the built environment using architecture historical terminology, identify works by their maker, style, material, structure, and location. Students will understand their meaning in relation to the historical contexts that contribute to their making. The assignments will help students strengthen their analytical skills and practice reading comprehension, textual synthesis, academic research and writing, and public speaking. Students will gain a greater understanding of research methods and further their own abilities to produce scholarship at the college level.

Prerequisites: This course is open to all students with interests in any aspect of architecture and urban studies. It is foundational for students wishing to further their studies in art and architectural history, and also to those seeking a broader understanding of the history of the twentieth century. No previous knowledge of architecture is required to take this course, but students interested in pursuing a college degree in art, architecture, design, art/architecture history, urban studies, media studies, structural engineering are especially encouraged to take this course.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEHA0921
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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