Media & Architecture Syllabus

Port Authority – via GKD Metal Fabrics on ArchDaily:

Ta da! I now have an almost-complete draft syllabus for my spring “Media and Architecture” graduate seminar. I’ve taught multiple variations on this course over the past decade: a Freshman Seminar at Penn in 2003, a grad seminar at The New School in 2005, an undergrad lecture course at The New School (with mostly Parsons students) in 2007, and again a grad seminar in 2009. But because this course reflects my main area of research and draws on resources I’ve been collecting for the past 14 years, reviving the course isn’t simply a matter of pulling out the old syllabus and dusting off the books. On each go-around, I rethink the whole thing. I comb through all the new resources I’ve collected since I last taught the class, I identify new examples, I consider new field trips and guest speakers, etc.

That’s what I’ve been up to for the past month or so. And I now have a nearly complete draft — with just a few questions remaining.

  1. I’m not sure if I should ask students to kick off the discussion each week. I’ve used start-of-class student presentations in other courses — but in “Media & Architecture,” I’ve found that it’s more helpful for me to start the class with a little architectural history — which is a background my students don’t have — than to have students summarize the readings, which they’re all doing in their Reading Responses anyway.
  2. I’d like to schedule a class tour of the new Google offices and the data center facilities at 111 8th Ave for our Media Workplaces & Labor lesson. I haven’t yet made contact with the right people, but I really hope we can swing this.
  3. I’m not sure about my readings for the photography lesson on March 28. I have lots of great resources to choose from — but most are too detailed for a “generalist” course. And many are out of print and exist in formats that prevent easy and clear scanning. I’m trying to include more non-Western texts, so I decided to use a chapter from Maria Pelizzari’s Traces of India: Photography, Architecture and the Politics of Representation; I’m not sure how it’ll work. *If anyone has recommendations for a more effective and exciting collection of “architecture and photography” texts, please share!

I always have to keep in mind that my students are media studies students — not design students. Very few have any background in architectural or design history and theory. That’s why I try to incorporate as many opportunities as possible to concretize the material for them; field trips serve this purpose well. This is also why, after having taught this course a few times, I decided to flip it from a chronological to a reverse-chronological organization, so we can start with what students are most familiar with — new media — and then dig further back into time, drawing connections between the old and the new, as the weeks go on.

So here it is:


[Here’s a pdf]

It wasn’t long ago that the digital vanguard was prophesying the arrival of the “paperless office,” the death of the book, and the “dematerialization” of our physical bodies and environments. Despite those proclamations, we have not traded in our corporeality for virtuality—nor have we exchanged all of our brick-and-mortar edifices and cities for virtual versions. In fact, many architects, urban planners, sociologists, psychologists, geographers, and scholars and practitioners in related disciplines argue that as our media have become ever more virtual, the design and development of our physical spaces—through architecture, landscape design, and urban and regional planning—have become even more important. If our media and our built spaces do not follow the same evolutionary paths, what is the relationship between these two fields of production and experience?

This course examines the dynamic and complex relationship between media and architecture.  We will look at architecture as media, symbols and embodiments of particular ideas and values—and at the impact that communication media have had on the practice of architecture and the way we experience our built environments. After equipping ourselves with a basic design vocabulary and a selection of relevant theoretical frameworks, we will trace the contemporaneous development of media and architecture from the scribal era in the Middle Ages to the digital era of today and tomorrow. Along the way, we’ll explore design, history, criticism, and theory from media and design historians and theorists, media makers, and designers. In the process, we will find that underlying and inspiring these various systems of cultural production throughout history are certain foundational elements—particular value systems and kinds of experience, cultural perspectives and worldviews.

Assignments: The students will be completing (almost) weekly reading responses, an exhibition/site review, a project proposal, and a final paper or theoretically-informed, research-based creative project.

WEEK 1: January 25
Introductions, Preview, Gauging Your Experience & Interests


  • We’ll review how various figures central to communication and media studies – James Carey, Edward T. Hall, Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Joshua Meyrowitz, etc. – have addressed architecture.
  • Beatriz Colomina, “The Media House” Assemblage 27 (August 1995): 55-66.

WEEK 2: February 1
Stones, Speak: Architecture as Medium

What do various media and architectural historians and theorists have to say about the relationships between media and architecture? Does architecture have a language? Can it be regarded as a mass medium? If so, what methods of analysis—e.g., formal analysis, reception studies, semiotic or rhetorical analysis, etc—might we employ in examining architecture?


  • Umberto Eco, “Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture” Reprinted in Neil Leach, Ed., Rethinking Architecture: Reader in Cultural Theory (New York: Routledge, 1997): 181-201.

Walter Benjamin is ubiquitous in media-architecture research. We’ll think about why – and consider alternatives.

  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, [1936]1968): 217-51 – also available online [You’ve probably already read this essay. Please quickly review it, looking this time for references to architecture.]
  • Stan Allen, “Dazed and Confused” Assemblage 27 Tulane Papers: The Politics of Contemporary Architectural Discourse (August 1995): 47-54.
  • Robert Venturi, Denisse Scott Brown & Steven Izenour, “A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning From Las Vegas” In Learning from Las Vegas, rev. ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, [1977]1998): 1-83. [lots of images!]

WEEK 3: February 8
Interface Space

What has happened to our conceptions of space in an era of dematerialization and decentralization? How have networked digital technologies changed the way we design our buildings and cities, and altered our experiences of those built spaces? How new are these ideas of networked and immaterial architectures?


In the following two texts, and in many others you’ll read in the upcoming weeks, you’ll probably encounter names with which you’re not familiar. You’re welcome to look up unfamiliar references on your own – but we’ll also likely read and talk more about these people and projects as the semester unfolds.

  • Mark Wigley, “The Architectural Brain” In Anthony Burke & Therese Tierney, Eds., Network Practices: New Strategies in Architecture and Design (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007): 30-53.
  • Aaron Betsky, “A Virtual Reality” Artforum 46:1 (September 2007): 440+.

The following two cover similar conceptual and theoretical territory, but they provide different, and complementary, examples: Manovich references media art and branded spaces, while Shepard focuses on technologies used in architecture and urban planning.

  • Lev Manovich, “The Poetics of Augmented Space” Visual Communication 5:2 (2006): 219-40.
  • Mark Shepard, “Toward the Sentient City” In Shepard, Ed., Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011): 16-37.
  • The Living, Living City [follow the “next” links at the top-right; there are 25 pages in total]
IAC Building

WEEK 4: February 15
Open Office: The Digital Workspace

How do media workspaces embody the forms of media production that take place inside? How might the physical space help or hinder that work? How do they reflect the values, or ideologies, of the corporations they house? How have these buildings evolved as the media landscape has evolved, as the cityscape has evolved? How do these buildings themselves function as media?

Field Trip: Google, 111 8th Ave??


  • Reinhold Martin, “The Physiognomy of the Office” and “Computer Architectures” In The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003): 80-121 (skim 105-120; read final three paragraphs on 120-1), 156-181.
  • Andrew Ross, “Jobs in Candyland: An Introduction,” “The Golden Children of Razorfish,” & “Steel Tables” In No Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs(Basic Books, 2003): 1-20, 55-9, 109-22.
    • Check out MoMA’s “Workspheres” online exhibition to see many of the design innovations that would’ve graced the late-90s “no collar” workplace.
  • Shannon Mattern, “Edge Blending: Light, Crystalline Fluidity, and the Materiality of New Media at Gehry’s IAC Headquarters” In Staffan Ericson & Kristina Riegert, Eds., Media Houses: Architecture, Media and the Production of Centrality (New York: Peter Lang, 2010): 137-61. – or something about our field trip site?
  • Sam Jacob, “Revolving Doors: The Architecture of Corporate MediaDomus (November 2011).
  • James Bridle, “Secret ServersICON 99 (September 2011), Reprinted on

WEEK 5: February 22
Boxed In: Televisual Space

How has television altered our perception of global space and domestic space, and how has it influenced the way we design and experience our private and public spaces? What is the architecture of the screen itself?


  • Lynn Spigel, Intro through Chapter 4 In Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992): 1-135.
  • Recommended: Shannon Mattern, “Broadcasting Space: China Central Television’s New Headquarters,” International Journal of Communication 2 (2008).
  • Recommended: Beatriz Colomina, “Enclosed by Images: The Eameses’ Multimedia Architecture” Grey Room 2 (Winter 2001): 5-29.
Roxy Theater, NY

WEEK 6: February 29
Mise-en-Scène: Cinematic Spaces

Why do so many historians and theorists regard the material city as inherently cinematic, and how do particular spaces lend themselves to representation in film? How do filmmakers construct and capture filmic space? How might various architectural elements – promenades, circulation patterns, windows, etc. – promote cinematic ways of looking within and without architecture? How do we design spaces for the exhibition of film?


  • Sergei M. Eisenstein, “Montage and Architecture,” reprinted, w/ Introduction by Yve-Alain Bois, in Assemblage 10 (1989): 110-31.
  • Giuliana Bruno, “Site-seeing: Architecture and the Moving Image” Wide Angle 19:4 (1997): 8-24. [For larger images, access the essay via Project Muse. In this essay Bruno lays out a map for her Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (New York: Verso, 2002).]
  • Siegfried Kracauer, “Cult of Distraction: On Berlin’s Picture Palaces” In The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, Trans. Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995): 323-8.
  • Joan Ockman, “Architecture in a Mode of Distraction: Eight Takes on Jacques Tati’s Playtime” In Mark Lamster, Ed., Architecture and Film (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000): 170-95. [The first section, “Toward a Theory of Distraction,” should present ideas familiar to you; feel free to skim.]

WEEK 7: March 7
Radio City: Sonic Spaces

How did new audio technologies of the 19th and early 20th centuries change the way people conceived of space? How could the building itself be thought of as a resonating or aural medium? What was the architecture of the “radio age”? How can architects design in response to the sounds that people and media make?


  • Carolyn Marvin, “Protecting the Domestic Hearth” In When Old Technologies Were New (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990): 76-81.
  • Rem Koolhaas, “All the Rockefeller Centers” and “Radio City Music Hall: The Fun Never Sets” In Delirious New York (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1994): 199-200, 208-19.
  • Emily Thompson, “Electroacoustics and Modern Sound” & “Conclusion: Rockefeller Center and the End of an Era” In The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002): 229-48, 295-315.
  • Sam Jacob, “Dot Dot Dot.” Perspecta 44 (September 2011): 136-44.
  • Geoff Manaugh, “Audio ArchitectureBLDGBLOG (August 10, 2007).
  • Skim the syllabi for my undergraduate “City & Sound” and graduate “Sound & Space” courses to get a sense of the breadth of this area of study.


  • Roman Mars, 99% Invisible  podcast: listen to the following podcasts, which you can find on iTunes:
    • Episode 1: “Noise” [4:21]
    • Episode 10: “Sound and Feel” [4:52]
    • Episode 21: “BLDGBLOG: On Sound” [5:22]
    • Episode 43: “Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators” [7:21]


WEEK 8: No Class March 21 – Shannon @ SCMS Conference; Make-Up Class March 24 or 25
Flex Week: Digital, Televisual, Cinematic Spaces


  • We’ll choose topics, readings, screenings, outings, etc., for this week based on student interest.

Optional Weekend Field Trip: Eugène Atget Exhibition @ MoMA – Time TBD

Michael Wolf, Transparent City

WEEK 9: March 28
Iconic Images: Photography & Architecture

What different functions has architectural photography served, what audiences does it appeal to? How does photography render space, and what is photographic space? What is the relationship between the photographed and the “real” building?


  • James Ackerman, “On the Origins of Architectural Photography” In Kester Rattenbury, Ed., This is Not Architecture: Media Constructions (New York: Routledge, 2002): 26-35.
  • Maria Antonella Pelizzari, “From Stone to Paper: Photographs of Architecture and the Traces of History” In Pelizzari, Ed., Traces of India: Photography, Architecture, and the Politics of Representation, 1850-1900 (Montreal/New Haven: Canadian Centre for Architecture / Yale Center for British Art / Yale University Press, 2003): 22-57.
  • Pierluigi Serraino, “Framing Icons: Two Girls, Two Audiences / The Photographing of Case Study House #22” In Kester Rattenbury, Ed., This Is Not Architecture: Media Constructions (New York: Routledge, 2002): 127-135.
  • Fred A. Bernstein, “Structural Integrity and People, TooNew York Times (January 22, 2010).
  • Rob Walker, “Go FigureNew York Times (February 4, 2011).
  • Todd Reisz, “As a Matter of Fact, The Legend of Dubai” Log 13/14 (Fall 2008): 127-37.

Some of our readings for next week will address architectural photography, too.

WEEK 10: April 4
Le Corbusier: Designer as Media Maven

Beatriz Colomina argues that “modern architecture only becomes modern with its engagement with the media” – and that Le Corbusier was perhaps the first architect to recognize that media was a “new context of [architectural] production, existing in parallel with the construction site.” How did Le Corbusier choose to mediate himself and his work – and how did his media and architectural production practices inform one another? How do contemporary architects make use of new forms of media production to inform their design practice and construct their “brand”? 


  • Jean-Louis Cohen, Introduction to Toward an Architecture Trans. John Goodman (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007): 1-78 [feel free to skim over much of “The Break with Ozenfant” through “An Eye Opener for the Young,” pp. 43-57].
  • Beatriz Colomina, “Le Corbusier and Photography” Assemblage 4 (October 1987): 6-23. [This essay contains many seeds that later bloomed in Colomina’s excellent Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994).]
  • Beatriz Colomina, “Architectureproduction” In Kester Rattenbury, Ed., This Is Not Architecture: Media Constructions (New York: Routledge, 2002): 207-221.
AJ Davis Rural Residences, 1837

WEEK 11: April 11
Circulation: Newspapers, Plans Books, Critical Journals, Design Magazines

What is the relationship between the pattern book, the theoretical journal, the design magazine, and the practice, reception, and experience of architecture? How did new commercial printing forms and formats influence the design of public and private spaces? And how has architecture informed the form and content of design publications?


  • Lewis Mumford, “The Paper Dream City” in The Culture of Cities (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966): 255-8 [Recall the discussion of newspaper headquarters in my “Edge Blending,” which we read for Week 4.]
  • Gwendolyn Wright, “Populist Visions” In Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago, 1973-1913 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000): 9-45.
  • Brian McLaren, “Under the Sign of Reproduction” Journal of Architectural Education 45:2 (February 1992): 98-106.
  • Nancy Levinson, “Critical BeatsPlaces (March 6, 2010).
  • Shannon Mattern, “Click/Scan/Bold: The New Materiality of Architectural Discourse and Its Counter-PublicsDesign and Culture 3:3 (November 2011): 329-53.
  • Browse through the website for the Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition

WEEK 12: April 18
Books & Buildings: Print & Architecture

What parallels exist between the architectures of the page and codex and the architecture of physical space? Was Hugo right: Does the rise of the print medium necessarily spell the demise of earlier forms of communication and embodiments of cultural values, including architecture? How did the rise of print influence architectural education and practice? Where do we find material texts even in our contemporary, mediatized physical landscape?


  • Lewis Mumford, “Architectural Forms” in The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1966): 128-135.
  • Victor Hugo, “This Will Kill That” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) – or download as an audio book.
  • Neil Levine, “The Book and the Building: Hugo’s Theory of Architecture and Labrouste’s Bibliothéque Ste-Geneviéve” In Robin Middleton, Ed., The Beaux Arts and Nineteenth-Century French Architecture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982): 138-173.
  • Hal Foster, “Bigness,” London Review of Books (November 29, 2001).
  • Skim through Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Yes is More!: An Archicomic on Architectural Education (Taschen 2009): If you have an iPad and $10 to spare, check out the digital version. You could also buy the printed book for $20, or you could simply leaf through here and watch the first 5 minutes or so of this video. [We’ll talk more about comics and illustration next week.]
  • Rob Walker, “Implausible Futures for Unpopular PlacesPlaces (July 25, 2011).
Ben Katchor

WEEK 13: April 25
Inscribed Space: Drawing & Architecture

How was space designed and experienced in an oral, or aural, age and in a writing culture – in a time before the printing press, as many have argued, brought fixity and linearity to the word and the world? What happens when a design is translated from word to image? How is the character of the “drawing” instrument – the pencil, paintbrush, or mouse – reflected in the buildings drawn and developed? What unique qualities of architecture can contemporary drawings practices—comics, cartoons, graphic novels, etc.—capture?


WEEK 14: May 2
Student Presentations.

WEEK 15: May 9
Student Presentations

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