Dept. of Architecture

ARC 564: Architecture and Society

Instructor: Edward Steinfeld


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Course Description


Architecture can be understood as the spatialization of society. Architectural forms, as products of social acts, represent that which created them. At the same time, they contribute to the development and maintenance of a social order by structuring human experience. Consider privacy. The architectural forms used to provide privacy are determined by cultural norms. Once constructed, those forms reproduce the cultural norms. The practice of architecture, therefore, cannot avoid participating in the dialogue of social relations. By its very nature, it is a part of that process. An examination of links between social relations and architectural forms exposes the mechanisms through which the spatialization of society occurs. It can also give insight into how the design of the built environment influences social life on a daily basis. Studying these processes not only provides valuable perspectives for ethical practice in architecture, it also provides practical knowledge to addressing everyday problems in building design. Finally, it provides a theoretical and conceptual foundation for practice or research.


This course will explore architecture as a reflection of and a contributor to social relations. It will present theoretical perspectives on the design of buildings and their use as well as analytical techniques for understanding the social origins and implications of built form. The exploration will be grounded in a critique of architecture on the contemporary cultural scene with a focus on selected building types and contemporary issues.


The course will be organized into three parts. The first part will be an Introduction to the course and an overview of the issues to be covered. The second part, Theories and Methods, will examine how social relations are embodied in making and using architecture. Several methods for studying the relationship of social relations and building form will be described and demonstrated. The third part, Contemporary Issues, will examine a selection of contemporary issues related to social change and their implications for society and the profession of architecture.


The course activities will include, required readings, in class discussions, supplementary lectures, and a semester long assignment with student presentations throughout the semester. Several films will be used to illustrate contemporary and historical practices. Many different building types will be discussed to demonstrate the general value of a social critique of architecture.

The course is divided into discrete units. Each unit consists of a discussion on assigned readings, a supplementary lecture and a demonstration of a related analysis method. The first part of the course includes an overview of the course, a review of the methods to be used and organization for the semester project. The second part of the course is divided into 5 units, each on a different theoretical and analytical approach. During this part, each student will be assigned to make a presentation on their work in progress for the semester prject. The third part of the class has 4 units, each on a different important contemporary theme. Films are interspersed throughout the course where they are most relevant to the topics under discussion.

The semester project will be completed in stages with student presentations each week and feedback from the instructor provided at each stage.

Student Responsibilities

Students are responsible for attending all classes, completing the assigned readings on time, participating in class discussion, making in class presentations and completing the project on time and with competence.

Discussion questions are posted on the course website. Students will be expected to have cogent, well articulated responses to those questions during the class for which they are assigned. Use these questions as a guide to insure that you have thoroughly mastered the readings for each unit.


Grades will be determined as follows:

1. Attendance and discussions 25%

2. In-class presentation 25%

3. Individual analysis and essays 25%

4. Team report 25%

Only one unexcused absence is allowed, regular tardiness will result in reduced grade for attendance. Attendance will be taken every class period at the beginning of the period. Students who arrive late will be marked late.


All assigned readings have been assembled in a "Course-Pack". The Course-Pack is on reserve for copying at Queen City Imaging, 3100 Main St., in the University Heights area on Main Street. One set is also available on reserve in the Architecture and Planning Library. Each unit of the class has, on the average, about 50 pages of assigned readings although some are longer and some shorter.

Specific Needs

Students with specific needs that require attention should inform the instructor at the beginning of the semester. If you have a disability (physical, learning or psychological) which may make it difficult for you to carry out the course work as outlined, and/or requires accommodations such as recruiting note takers, readers, or extended time on quizzes and assignments, please contact the Office of Disability Services, 25 Capen Hall, 645-2608. The office will provide you with information and review appropriate arrangements for reasonable accommodations.

Academic Integrity

Students and undergraduate students are expected to be familiar with the University's policies regarding Academic Integrity as published in the Undergraduate Catalog. This policy covers cheating on exams and quizzes, submission of others' work as one's own (plagiarism), submission of work done for one class to fulfill requirements of another without the permission of the instructor.

NAAB Criteria

This course fulfills the following Accreditation Criteria of the National Architectural Accrediting Board:

Verbal and Writing Skills - Ability to speak and write effectively on subject matter contained in the professional curriculum

Research Skills - Ability to employ basic methods of data collection and analysis to inform all aspects of the programming and design process

Critical Thinking Skills - Ability to make a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of a building, building complex, or urban space

Human Behavior - Awareness of the theories and methods of inquiry that seeks to clarify the relationships between human behavior and the physical environment

Human Diversity - Awareness of the diversity of needs, values, behavioral norms, and social and spatial patterns that characterize different cultures, and the implications of this diversity for the societal roles and responsibilities of architects

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Last revised 1/11/06

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