module specification

AR7002 - Theories (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Theories
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 200
164 hours Guided independent study
36 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 75% 50 Essay 4000 words
Seminar 25%   Seminar presentation
Attendance Requirement 0%   Attendance Requirement
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester City Tuesday Afternoon

Module summary

The module examines the work of thinkers within and beyond architecture, relating these ideas to the experience of architecture and to the making architecture.

Module aims

The module aims to show how established theoretical orthodoxies might be challenged or re-interpreted in light of students' experience of buildings and other physical forms of culture, using theory.  In the module we examine influential philosophical and intellectual themes in the theory of architecture, comparing them and assessing their worth, and tracing current theoretical concerns in architecture to their origins in philosophy.


In the last thirty years or so, architectural theory, under the influence of structuralism, post-structuralism and French critical theory generally, has detached itself from the broader study of architecture and become a self-contained discipline. It has grown from a makeshift collection of dubious observations and groundless assertions into a fully fledged branch of philosophy. It has gained depth, rigour and above all, ambition. But in the process it has forgotten how to communicate with professional architects and those who study architecture for its own sake.

One reason for this non-communication is tendency to study particular philosophers, rather than themes in architectural theory. This tends to marginalise purely architectural theorists and to obscure rather than illuminate specific topics in architectural theory. This course is a thematic introduction to architectural theory. Each week a discussion on a major topic is initiated by a reading of two careful selected texts, typically one philosophical, the other architectural.

Typical topics and texts might include: Representation: Alberti and Eisenman; Form; Plato and Robin Evans; Morphogenesis: D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson and Manuel de Landa; Ornament: John Summerson and Adolf Loos; Authenticity: John Ruskin and Gottfried Semper; Cities and Time: Aldo Rossi and Rem Koolhaas; Typology: Michel Foucault and Bernard Tschumi; Space and Place: Martin Heidegger and Christian Norberg-Schulz; Language: Claude Levi-Strauss and George Hersey; Authorship: Roland Barthes and Colin Davies.

Learning and teaching

The module is conducted through seminars which challenge students to engage with difficult texts and subtle ideas. Texts are usually paired, one philosophical, the other architectural. 

Opportunities for pdp are available through the choice of essay topics developed for the assessment, supported by individual tutorials.

Learning outcomes

On completing the module the student should be able to:

  1. read and interpret difficult texts;
  2. make productive use of a set of important philosophical themes and approaches;

  3. connect between these major themes and current modes of thinking about architecture;
  4. demonstrate a critical stance in relation to established orthodoxies;
  5. employ a broad theoretical base for later investigations.

Assessment strategy

Assessment will be based on a 4000 word essay on one of the themes covered in the module (75%) and a class presentation of one of the set texts (25%). The pass mark for the module is to be calculated as an aggregate of the components weighted accordingly, with the proviso that the candidate must pass Component 1 (the essay).


1. Burke, Sean, ed., Authorship – From Plato to the Postmodern –  A Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995)

2. Derrida, Jacques, Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978)
3. Empson, William, Seven Types of Ambiguity (New York: New Directions, 1966)
4. Evans, Robin, The Projective Cast (Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, 2000)
5. Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971)

6. Hays, K. Michael. Architecture Theory Since 1968 (Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, 2000)

7. Heidegger, Martin, Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1971)
Hersey, George, The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture (Cambridge Mass: MIT Press,1988.

9. Nesbitt, Kate, ed., Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965-1995 (Princeton Architectural Press, 1996)

10. Rossi, Aldo, The Architecture of the City (New York: MIT Press, 1982)

11. Ruskin, John, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984)

12. Tafuri, Manfredo, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development (Cambridge Mass:: MIT Press, 1976)