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 and develop courses in order to advance student learning in writing as performance across the disciplines in a five-year undergraduate professional architecture program. A signature program of the Pratt Institute department of Humanities and Media Studies, the integrated studio writing curriculum expands on the traditional role of the freshman English course and the capstone thesis course to provide instruction in critical practices in poetics, rhetoric, and performance as the student learns to design so that the design project can be understood as a heuristic device that can be considered from a variety of perspectives. Developed to resonate with the architecture courses, writing courses are based on philosophy of language applied practically in a studio through the structuring of the web of meaning between inner speech and written speech. Students learn how to locate a concept in the design of their first year project and they learn how to locate a project for a concept in the fifth year capstone Degree Project.

The portal and capstone courses operate symbiotically to teach the ways in which knowledge is produced in designed form through architecture writing and language making exercises in poetic figuration, motivational rhetorical devices, situational plays of genre, expanded media and argumentative prose. The writing courses thus provide a metacognitive orientation to the production of knowledge as a written performance in multiple media that can take place in both the seminar and studio. The voice of the students as the interpreter of their own architecture is vital at a time when students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and architecture incorporates new economies brought about by the interrelation of design variables in the parametric studio. In this way, the students learn to establish the terms by which they want their architectural work to be assessed and to develop a critical set of terms to evaluate, understand and explain their work within the ways in which thought and feeling are mediated by social, political and symbolic structures. The mapping between the courses enables students to articulate writing directly with the studio as a form of making and post rationalization.

Since the text is conceptualized, written, spoken, presented and figured with equal or more contingency and responsiveness to temporal and corporeal happenings, the curriculum takes place multidimensionally during public presentations of student work in the design studio with internal and external critics, and in both the seminar and writing course. By aligning the writing courses with the intellectual agenda of the seminar, the challenges of scale and meaning in a parametric studio have been informed by an approach to the humanities that is flexible and open to many interpretations and applications across platforms and the centrality of the value of writing and speaking philosophically in the digital age. If, as has been observed, the distinctive feature of an architectural education is its syncretic application of diverse and often-contradictory bases of knowledge, the adoption of writing as a studio practice enables the student to move between platforms to form new critical connections, new structures and new ways of being (Ockman, 2012, xii).

The Architecture Writing Program: Language Making encourages multidimensional participation in the curriculum from students, external and internal critics and faculty across disciplines that allow for differences of ability and background to be measured in the achievement of shared goals and outcomes that are incorporated in the curriculum at every level of instruction, which, in turn, provides an expanded public dimension to the teaching of a profession with its own hermetic discourse and jargon. By establishing the terms by which they want their work to be assessed, for the student language becomes a way of assessing their own work as it develops as they learn the professional requirements of their course of study at many different stages of completion, from the establishment of rule based formal investigations relative to the context and intention for the project that can be finally assessed in a post rationalization of a project after it has been presented from the perspective of the humanities, which can include literary and philosophical analogical comparisons. If language and architecture are autonomous systems, they can come together through mapping. While architecture is principally regarded as an autonomous aesthetic operation, ethical considerations are an important component of the transdisciplinary curriculum since architectural designs present public spaces with consequences for large numbers of people. The humanities faculty working across the disciplines adds the literary imaginary and philosophical constructions for another perspective to the education of architecture at differing levels of urgencies.

Historically, the role of writing in the architecture studio has been ancillary to the primacy of graphic forms of representation. This approach foregrounds writing, speech, performance and media in the conceptualization and presentation of an architecture project. By centering the writing program in the architecture studio, the studies and practices of the coding systems of languages in verbal and visual media, production of subjectivity and relationship of Earth and environment that are central to the contemporary project in the humanities and media studies energizes the disciplines with new forms of spatial knowledge and inner subjectivity relative to embodied cognition. The program creates new knowledge across the disciplines of architecture, humanities and media studies to inform contemporary discourses in trauma studies, post colonial and post slavery subjectivities in literary figuration, performance and activism in symposia and publications with leading scholars and practitioners across the disciplines. The curriculum and the faculty and students and internal and external critics operate in a doubly operative methodology of mapping across the disciplines in the Architecture Writing Program: Language Making.


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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