Education in the arts, including architectural design, works often through visual analogy. Qualities easily demonstrated in familiar contexts are shown to be the same as those in new, or unfamiliar, ones. That students can confuse similarity with identity– or that an analogy is only relevant “as far as it goes”–is generally accepted as a simple misstep, from which students learn and mature intellectually. Historian Mario Carpo has located a source of analogy’s importance for European architecture in the transition from non-visual to visual imitation, effected by the introduction of mechanical reproduction at the end of the 15th century. Architects were no longer bound by the constraints of ekphrasis to learn about architecture beyond their immediate experience; architectural discourse (including its teaching) could instead proceed by direct visual example, in contrast to medieval methods of “dialogue, observation, and memory” (Carpo, 1998). What Carpo calls the “Typographical Architect” remains a prominent model for students today, but this model is increasingly challenged as other disciplines (including ecology, sociology, and communications) displace traditional subjects of study from the core of architectural education. An especially useful challenge may derive, ironically, from the very books originally responsible for the rise of the “Typographical Architect.” Students’ engagement with architecture can depend not only upon experiencing buildings and looking at their representations (drawings, diagrams, or photographs), but by attending to the artifacts which bear those representations. Original editions of printed treatises, written by period authors, are part of a work-based discourse independent of–but parallel to–the history of physical architecture itself. In the 21st century classroom, of course, mere printed sources can hardly compete with other media for the attention of students’ visual imaginations. Rather, these books embody certain intellectual and human ethoi, which themselves point towards non-allegorical lessons about architecture. This paper argues for just such an engagement with rare books in architectural education, describes a university-level course based on this premise, and suggests criteria for its efficacy.
|Keywords:||Architectural Education, History and Design, Analogy and Representation, Rare Books|
Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, School of Architecture of Planning, Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA