module specification

AR7049 - The Problem of Irony (2023/24)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2023/24
Module title The Problem of Irony
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Art, Architecture and Design
Total study hours 200
161 hours Guided independent study
39 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 75%   4000 word essay
Practical Examination 25%   Seminar presentation
Running in 2023/24

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
No instances running in the year

Module summary

The module examines historical and philosophical ideas that deal with architecture as a means of cultural dialogue and discourse since the Enlightenment.
The module examines historical and philosophical ideas that deal with architecture as a means of cultural dialogue and discourse since the Enlightenment. The aim of this module is to introduce as 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. LO1

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. LO1,LO2

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. LO3,LO4

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Scheduled teaching ensures that independent study is effective and addresses the learning outcomes and assessment tasks. Students have the opportunity to study outside of scheduled classes. A range of learning strategies are deployed and individual learning styles accommodated. The module’s learning outcomes, its contents and delivery, are regularly reviewed to ensure an inclusive pedagogical approach.
The module and course utilise the University’s blended learning platform to support and reinforce learning. Peer-to-peer communication is fostered in seminars and tutorial support provided at key points in the calendar. Reflective learning is promoted through assessment tasks and formative feedback. Students are encouraged to reflect on their progress and engage in sequential decision making through staged submissions and worksheets, and to make recommendations to themselves for future development.
The School’s programme of employability events and embedded work-related learning within the curriculum supports personal development planning. Through these initiatives, students are increasingly able – as they progress – to understand the professional environment of their discipline, the various opportunities available to them, and how to shape their learning according to their ambitions and aspirations.

Learning outcomes

On completing the module the student should be able to:
1. think critically and with precision about different aspects 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).


Diderot, Denis, Jacques the Fatalist and his Master (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
Evans, Robin, Translations from Drawing to Building and other Essays (London: Architectural Association, 1997)
Freud, Sigmund, The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious (Penguin, 2000)
Hertzberger, Herman, Lessons for Students in Architecture (Rotterdam: Uitgeverij 010 Publishers, 1991)
Hutcheon, Linda, Irony's Edge: Theory and Politics of Irony (New York: Routledge,1995)
Kierkegaard, Soren, The Concept of Irony, with continual reference to Socrates (Princeton University Press, c.1989)
Leatherbarrow, David, Uncommon Ground Architecture, Technology, and Topography (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2002)
Nietzsche Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 2000)
Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music, (London: Penguin Books 1993)
Quintilian, The Orator's Education (Cambridge, Mass; Harvard University Press, 2001)
Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von, The Philosophy of Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989)
Schlegel, Friedrich von, Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde; and, The Fragments, trans. by Peter Firchow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,1971)
Sennett, Richard, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994)
Sennett, Richard, Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City (London: Allen Lane, 2018)
Steiner, Henriette and Max Sternberg (eds), Phenomenologies of the City (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015)
Tschumi, Bernard, Architecture and Disjunction (Cambridge, Mass; MIT Press, 1994)
Vidler, Anthony, The Architectural Uncanny (Cambridge, Mass; MIT Press, 1992)
Wilson, Colin St John, Architectural Reflections : Studies in the Philosophy and Practice of Architecture (Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann, 1988)
Heinrich Wolfflin, Heinrich, Prolegomena to a Psychology of Architecture,  trans. Michael Selzer (Colorado Springs, CO: KeepAhead Press Architectural Theory Texts, 2017)
Zumthor, Peter, Thinking Architecture (Lars Müller Publishers, 1998)