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ARCH 771


“Be careful what you ask for, ’cause you just might get it.”


Relief time for one of my faculty colleagues has shifted me from Second Year architectural studio [I prefer to think of them as laboratories] to Fifth Year, a class that sometimes gets lost in the simultaneous preparation for Thesis. I hope that won’t be the case.

I has already asked for a section of ARCH 771 and might have got a handful of students “on the side,” but this new assignment means a full section of twelve. The original intention (conceived for a smaller number of students; perhaps five or six) was to be history-based. Here is some of what would have been involved, updated for the larger group:


You have recently left the employ of one of several architects well-known in the period 1900-1915 and opened your own independent architectural practice. Your former employer—for whom you feel a strong kinship—has been unable to accept a new commission and has suggested you as their architect. Your approach to the new client’s needs will necessarily be framed in terms of your former mentor’s approach. For each architect, I have chosen a building type that either 1) they never undertook (so there can be little chance of imitation) or 2) they may have designed multiple examples of that type (so there is considerable, even too much, precedent as source material). Each architect’s name is followed by a suggested building type:

  • Peter BEHRENS [German; 1868-1940] — A public bathhouse for an urban neighborhood (Berlin)
  • H. P. BERLAGE [Dutch; 1856-1934] — A private banking house
  • Ralph Adams CRAM [American; 1863-1942] — Single-family residence for a university faculty member
  • Adolf LOOS [Austrian; [1870-1933] — A private banking house
  • Sir Edwin LUTYENS [English; 1869-1944] — Single-family residence for a university faculty member
  • Marion MAHONY [American; 1871-1961] — A rare book library and archive (Chicago)
  • Bernard MAYBECK [American; 1862-1957] — Single-family residence for a university faculty member
  • Ludwig MIES VAN DER ROHE [German; 1886-1968] — A rare book library and archive
  • Auguste PERRET [French; 1874-1954] — A public bathhouse for an urban neighborhood (Paris)
  • Louis SULLIVAN [American; 1856-1924] — Single-family residence for a university faculty member
  • Henry VAN de VELDE [Belgian; 1863-1957] — A rare book library and archive
  • Otto WAGNER [Austrian; 1841-1918] — A private banking house (Vienna)

The original Mentor list included just six names — architects admittedly on my “Top Ten” —  so I rounded it up to eleven, a reasonable slice of movers and shakers whose careers, thankfully, have decent library and on-line coverage.


The task is fairly straightforward: Analyse the work of the architect you’ve chosen, with special emphasis on buildings like the assigned project type; buildings of similar or analogous function and comparable size and/or complexity. Draw from that some insights on how your mentor approached problem solving (in the context of their time and place; I apologize there is only one woman on this list). How do they conceive space? Does structure play a strong role? What about the more abstract aspects of design, like proportion. If “ornament” is present, how is it deployed? Then apply these principles to your given design problem. And finally, how should your scheme be presented to the client; what medium?



In 1927, eighteen modernist architects participated in the design of a housing exhibition in Stuttgart. Known as the Weißenhofsiedlung, it survived World War II and remains a vital residential neighborhood in the city. Two of its houses — a duplex by LeCorbusier — have been restored as a museum interpreting the projects intentions as well as its history. This is a two-fold exercise. After having familiarized yourself about the project and its underlying intentions, you will 1) play the role of the nineteenth architect participating in the project and add your contribution to the group, working within the tenets and technologies of the period 1927 [a site will be designated], and then 2) interpret the same program as a contemporary (i.e., now) addition; a “late entry” to the mix.



The Agincourt Project [which some of you may know from Third Year studio] is an exercise in historical fiction. Last February I attended a conference on that broad topic and presented Agincourt as a laboratory example. For this option, choose a work of literature, probably a novel, that uses language and plot to establish an imaginary world; a vision so strong in your mind’s eye that it become virtual. In my own case, Hawksmoor, a novel by Peter Ackroyd, did precisely that: in telling a fictionalized version of the life and architectural career of the real Nicholas Hawksmoor, Ackroyd’s fictional architect Nicholas Dyer designs not only the six real Hawksmoor London churches; but he also imagines a seventh church, which became so real in my own imagination that I began to design it — in the style of the real Nicholas Hawksmoor. So choose a literary work (one which hopefully is familiar) and show us what that author has created in your mind’s eye.

While this entire studio experience is intended to be both playful and a true learning experience — one that will expose you to a number of architectural ideas and issues that we kick casually around the studio but rarely discuss or define in any detail — it may very well be one of the more difficult design experiences you will have had at NDSU prior to your Thesis project. I look forward to guiding you through this process and maximizing its impact on your thinking.

1 Comment

  1. […] next February’s conference in mind and the memory of a history-based architecture design studio behind me, this week’s mail brought the latest New York Review of Books, with an article by […]

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