Pratt Institute School of Architecture and School of Liberal Arts & Sciences


In Mapping on December 23, 2009 at 6:26 pm

The Architecture Writing Program: Language/Making

By Jeffrey Hogrefe

The Architecture Writing Program: Language/Making is a transdisciplinary initiative that aims to conduct research so as to encourage the development of experimental studies in philosophy, critical theory and poetics across the various disciplines which support architectural practice. The innovative faculty and student driven exchange of transdisciplinary research is made possible by the integration of language and architecture as a site of new possible futures in collective knowledge. Language operates in multiple forms so as to create new structures between language and architecture in the conceptualization and contextualization of architectural form in a range of performances. Conscious of the possibility that architecture can be generative of new types of sensitivity to the body and inner subjectivity in relationship to space, and new forms of knowledge and understanding of the world, the program seeks to locate a critical position from within the production of architecture as it responds to theory, criticism, philosophy, literature and film. The practice of “architecture writing” and “language/making” looks to literature, film, theory, criticism and philosophy as material with which to make and name space, as it responds to the emerging technologies of the biopolitical body. Language as a way to study, critique and imagine new forms of enclosures and movement for new distributions of bodies and transformative spaces within and without the production of architecture.  Language as ontological and epistemological applications of philosophy in the articulation of a responsive architecture.

The innovative program encourages the development of articulate, individual voice for the architecture student: the voice of the student as the interpreter of their own architecture is vital at a time when students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and architecture incorporates new economies and new forms of languages brought about by the computational tools and techniques of the digital creation and visualization of forms and signs. For the designer who moves rapidly back and forth between various platforms that constitute the digital studio, the acquisition of a critical practice in architecture writing and language making enables new forms of knowledge to be created and new ways of being in the world to be considered in response to the urgencies of a global economy. Through this curriculum the student acquires metacognitive skills which allow them to establish the terms by which they want their architectural work to be assessed and to develop a set of critical terms to evaluate, understand and explain their work in relationship to the context. The student learns to acquire the ability to perceive the various elements of a situation while it is happening, and to be able to deftly negotiate the rhetoric, poetics and performances that can describe and interpret the ongoingness of their project as a concept that has meaning. In this way they learn to assess their projects both as representations that are mediated by symbolic, social and political forces and as conceptual propositions with a motivated intention, clear syntax and definable context.

The doubly operative nature of architecture writing and language making that crosses both the seminar and the studio with knowledge that can inform a project with a new level of criticality offers the opportunity to understand the ways that knowledge and power are intertwined in the body and the mind through engagement in creative practices in a range of philosophy, theory and criticism, literature and film that can be mapped together to produce new knowledge. Through the acquisition of this new practice in criticality new concepts can be created in acquisition of perceptual knowledge through exercises in embodied cognition that are informed by a critical, philosophical and theoretical understanding of knowledge as it is being made and remade creatively. This integration of curriculum is made possible through a series of innovative humanities courses that are cross-linked and integrated with the design studios to bring literary and critical studies, authorship and conceptual writing and performance directly into the studio.

A synergistic practice taken from linguistics, “mapping,” separated from its way-finding operation, is a form of abstraction that takes place in the tissue of texts so as to engender connections that can lead to new forms of knowledge: The scale of the body informing its own architecture, the conceptualization of form and the contextualization of a site in a given condition that is mediated by new forms of digital and actual landscapes as they regard the various speeds of the exchange between critical theory, film, philosophy, literature and architecture. The conceptual agenda of studio is aligned thematically with the intellectual trajectory of the seminar to introduce new understanding of analytical practices and interpretative skills directly into the production of architecture. The mapping between the courses enables the student to articulate writing directly with the studio as a form of making and post rationalization, and thereby privilege architecture writing and language making as an integral component of a critical and speculative practice in architecture.

Due to the close integration of the courses the presence of Humanities and Media Studies faculty in the studio enriches the culture of the architecture school by offering diverse perspectives, practices and discourses. Language moves back and forth between writing courses and studios in a synergetic feedback loop that enriches instruction in both the Humanities and Media Studies and Architecture. Architecture Writing is the signature program of the new department of Humanities and Media Studies, a hybrid discipline at Pratt Institute that was created from the former English and Humanities Department in response to the potential offered to the concept of the human as it is reimagined in the digital age with regard to considerations of the post-human and non-human. The disciplines have become doubly operative, which is to say that they move back and forth fluidly in ways that enable the coding systems of languages to be considered in both verbal and visual media as new ways of being are constructed in the post colonial exhibition.

Architecture Writing is not necessarily writing about architecture or architecture history and theory, although those practices and disciplines are considered in the practice. It is learning how to consider architecture as a form of writing both within and beyond the discipline to extend the role of architecture as a social practice in the past, present and future and  to imagine new worlds to come for the contested body in a global space. Language making is embodied cognition that informs the body of the practitioner with new levels of understanding of the ways in which language is formed in the body as experience that can be understand as the production of subjectivity, codification of signs and relationship of the earth and environment. Practitioners learn to write as a considered interpretive practice of cultural experience that can be incorporated in the conceptualization and presentation of their architecture and its relationship to other disciplines. Architecture Writing engages in interpretive practices with a variety of texts so as to learn to synthesize ideas from multiple sources and apply abstract theory in analysis of a text; to engage with, contextualize and critically apply differing theoretical understandings of language and its relationship to space/architecture; and, moreover, to understand the ways in which any work engages with the work of others, both contemporaneously and historically. Practitioners acquire the ability to appropriate the formal structures of literary media as a skeleton for creative interventions in the presentation of a project. All of this language making and writing is then compiled as an archive from which to curate a position.

Architecture Writing: Language/Making has introduced a critical practice in making new forms of knowledge in architecture and in relationship to architecture as a humanities discipline. If, as historian Joan Ockman has proposed, the distinctive feature of an architecture education is its syncretic application of diverse and often-contradictory bases of knowledge, the adoption of language making and writing as a studio practice enables the student to move between platforms to form new critical connections, new structures and new ways of being as they generate architecture that is rich and supple and transformative. (2012: Ockman, 10.)

Architecture School Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America. Edited by Joan Ockman and Rebecca Williamson. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

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