Topics in Architectural History I, Pre-1900


ARCH 504




Hybrid lecture-seminar course on a focused topic covering one thematic aspect of the history of architecture during the time period of 1400–1900. Through in-depth study of a particular thematic topic, students will engage with the latest research and approaches to understanding the history of architecture as embedded within cultural, political, and economic contexts. Students will produce individual research papers. The topic of this course will be unique from other architectural history courses offered in the previous three years.

Winter 2022 term 1


Architectural Imaginations of the Environment:
Histories of 18th and 19th century buildings, cities, and worlds 

Prof. Sara Stevens, Ph.D.

Resilience and sustainability might be the terms du jour, but architecture’s relationship with its environment, as well as its desire to overcome this environment, is baked into the discipline. This course will study pre-1900 architecture across a set of global geographies to understand how thinking about the environment and the natural world has influenced architecture. By addressing imaginations of architecture, we will take as a given that one’s ideological frameworks influence how space is conceptualized. This supposition also enables an inclusive definition of architecture, ranging from the vernacular to the unbuilt and from the scale of landscapes to that of clothing. Organized thematically, rather than chronologically or geographically, the course will examine the contingent relationships between buildings, climates, and understandings of science. Students will select a case study project and thematic lens through which they will write a research paper related to the course topic. Short assignments will build capacity toward this research paper through structured workshops, while taking advantage of students’ creativity.

Topics covered in the course will range from the understanding of air flow in eighteenth-century French fireplaces to planetary urbanization seen through Chicago’s nineteenth-century meat markets. Jules Vernes’ visions of human undersea inhabitation will provide one type of architectural imaginary; another will take up Dipesh Chakrabarty’s idea of “provincializing” Europe to reframe our too often Eurocentric lens. A close look at eighteenth century political and economic theory will reframe our understanding of picturesque garden design. Studying nineteenth century ideas in science, from Darwin’s evolution to understandings of geologic time, as presented through the architecture of museums, will be another way the course engages questions of architecture and environment. Finally, the class will engage with contemporary theories of the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Chthulucene to reflect further on these histories.

Louis Sullivan’s abstracted meat for the Chicago Stock Market from 1863, Jules Vernes’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from 1870, and Nicolas Gauger’s diagram of air flow for the interior of a new fireplace, 1713.

Winter 2022 term 2


Materiality of Pre-Twentieth Century Architecture 

Prof. Christina Gray, Ph.D.

This course will give a broad historical survey of pre-twentieth century architecture through the lens of materiality, with each module focusing on a particular building material. This course will assert that, although building materials can sometimes appear inscrutable, a close examination reveals a wide range of architectural effects.