ARC 327R / ARC 386M
Instructor: Kevin Alter

We often learn things in unexpected ways. Something spins us around in our tracks,  and we suddenly see an avenue that was hidden before. Our axis is tilted, and we right ourselves in a new way. When conditions arise for the possibility of a new path, some observations have a heightened ability to seize that moment and point the way. Building Matters poses the proposition that the artifact of building possesses intrinsic meaning and value, not reduceable to a text in its conception. This course aims to mine those material, physical qualities so as to rescue them from illustration; to present a fresh orientation and an avenue for design.

The course begins with a collection of artifacts, continues with texts and built works, and aims at generating a critical dialogue within the class. Analytical and critical skills are developed via discussion, concise writing venues and a final project. Writing assignments will be short, trenchant responses to the specific artifacts, texts and buildings, and is expected to be a response to the material put forth, not explanations of any given artifact. These responses are intended to generate conversation in class, and participation in this critical dialogue is expected. A final presentation by each member of the class (or in teams) that expands on each individual’s interest will take place over the last classes of the semester. In this final exercise, students will identify a set of physical characteristics and explore their presence in the built environment. Intended as a provocation rather than a response, it is expected that this final exercise will require more effort than the previous weeks’ writings.

The objective of this course is not only to expose students to a relevant body of writing and built work, but to also develop skills in relating critical investigations to their physical embodiment. The intention of the course is to afford the framework by which students might begin to position their own architectural ambitions. Particular attention will be paid to the realm of material manifestation as a critical juncture in the formulation of architecture. In the concern for the materials of building and the manners of construction the architect commits speculation to action: attempts to convert intention into palpable reality. It is here that architecture is most fully and deliberately engaged with the world and here that architecture initiates the world's response in turn. It seems clear, however, from even casual observation that while this subject matter may be vital it is oftentimes treated as a marginal concern.

This course begins with the assumption that this denial of Architecture's material potential seriously undermines architecture's value in society and raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy of our profession more generally. Students will explore these concerns through their responses and class dialogue.




Spring 2023