module specification

AR7049 - The Problem of Irony (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title The Problem of Irony
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 25%   Seminar Report
Coursework 75% 50 Essay
Attendance Requirement 0%   Attendance Requirement
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Spring semester City Tuesday Afternoon

Module summary

The module examines historical and philosophical ideas that deal with architecture as a means of cultural dialogue and discourse since the Enlightenment.

Module aims

The module examines historical and philosophical ideas that deal with architecture as a means of cultural dialogue and discourse since the Enligtenment. The aim of this module is to introduce a the key critical concept, the self-awareness of irony, to the evaluation of the role of architectural proposition and thought in modern culture.


Irony exists in architecture mediating between sincerity and make-believe, between the architect and the user, between the proposed idea and the lived experience. Discrepancies between expected and implied meaning expressed in architecture lend themselves to alternative interpretations through reading and use. These suggestions can be subtle or forceful, undermining dogma, authority and certainties. Irony creates fragments and complexities to point towards a larger picture.

Since the age of Romantic Poetry, irony has been a spark plug of ideas in the philosophy of art. Looking at the last 200 years – a period that saw the emergence of modern building types and the profession of the architect – this module aims to investigate whether the language of architecture can reach beyond mere representation and reference. Responding to a heightened state of self-awareness the architect can learn from the ironist how to address opportunities, the demands and the limitations of his art in relation to those who inhabit and use it. Irony is taken seriously here, as an empathetic mode of communication, acknowledging the need to relate art to a lived experience in the modern world, on sincere yet strictly uncertain terms.

Students will be asked to pick one of the main themes of the seminars the topic for their final essay. In reference to the seminar discussions and readings they will be encouraged to widen the theoretical discussion to include a critical analysis of a chosen architectural example. On the successful completion of this module students will be familiar with the key ideas and wider historical and philosophical context of architectural theory, having established similarities, connection and contradictions between different approaches to thinking and form in a modern tradition.

Learning and teaching

The teaching and learning strategy is to developa reflectiveand critical understanding of architecture and the task of writing about architecture. The moduleis seminar based and discursive.

Students are encouraged to see themselves as independent thinkers.

Learning outcomes

On completing the module the student should be able to:

  1. think critically and with precision about different apects of creating and communicating meaning and their expression within architecture and architectural theory;
  2. use historical and cultural materials imaginatively in the pursuit of such questions;
  3. construct a clear and forceful argument, effectively expressed through prose;
  4. show evidence of an ability to apply the specific subject matter of the course to other contexts.

Assessment strategy

Module assessment is based on a 4000 word essay on a topic agreed with the tutor and related to the subject material of the seminar (75%), together with a seminar report(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. Diderot, Denis, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
2. Evans, Robin, Translations from Drawing to Building and other Essays (London: Architectural Association, 1997)
3. Freud, Sigmund, The Joke and the Unconcious (Penguin, 2000)
4. Hertzberger, Herman, Lessons for Students in Architecture (Rotterdam: Uitgeverij 010 Publishers, 1991)
5. Hutcheon, Linda, Irony's Edge: Theory and Politics of Irony (New York: Routledge,1995)
6. Kierkegaard, Soren, The Concept of Irony, with continual reference to Socrates(Princeton University Press, c1989)
7. Nietsche Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 2000)
8. Quintilian, The Orator's Education (Cambridge, Mass; Harvard University Press, 2001)
9. Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von, The Philosophy of Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989)
10. Schlegel,Friedrich von, Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde; and, The Fragments, translated with an introduction by Peter Firchow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,1971)
11. Tschumi, Bernard, Architecture and Disjunction (Cambridge, Mass; MIT Press, 1994)
12. Vidler, Anthony, The Architectural Uncanny (Cambridge, Mass; MIT Press, 1992)