October 26, 2005

Prof Traces Evolution of Theory in Architecture

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Prof. Joseph Rykwert, architecture and art history, University of Pennsylvania, spoke to a crowd of architecture students about the evolution and role of theory in modern architecture in Lewis Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall yesterday evening.

Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, introduced Rykwert as a man who has had a “revolutionary impact on the teaching of architecture.”

Rykwert taught at Cambridge University and the University of Essex in England before moving to the United States in 1988. He has taught at “most major schools of architecture throughout the world,” according to the lecture’s organizers.

Rykwerth opened the lecture by exploring the Greek origins of the word “theory.” He explained that in ancient times, the word was regarded with a more practical connotation.

“The whole sense [of theory] had to do with observation and actions,” he said. “Aesthetics were of relatively little importance [to the ancient Greeks].”

He expanded on this theme by describing how the sense of “theory” has evolved since ancient times.

“By the 18th century, ‘the theory of’ became a sort of game,” he said, citing “the theory of idleness and the art of being lazy” as an example.

Rykwert emphasized the importance of combining both practicality and sound theory in architecture and urged architecture students not to forget the importance of theory in their work.

“The word ‘architect’ has, since the Middle Ages, contained both the word ‘science’ and the word ‘art.'” Rykwert said.

Rykwert also criticized the fixation in modern architecture on practicality at the expense of theory, describing many contemporary buildings as “inflated bubbles” without “a single coherent theoretical backing.”

However, he described the modern philosophy as a “phase that will expire in seven to eight years.”

“I hope to revive some confidence in the practice of theory,” Rykwert said in conclusion.

The lecture, entitled “It May Be All Right in Theory, But Does it Work in Practice?,” drew a large crowd, despite the wet, cold weather outside. Rykwert expressed his gratitude to those in attendance for braving the elements to hear him speak.

“The title of the lecture was interesting to me,” said Ashima Chitre ’06.

Rykwert’s ideas were thought provoking amongst the students in attendance. “The beauty of theory is that you don’t have to agree or disagree.” said Kaz Yoneda ’07.

Students also took hold of Rykwert’s extensive teaching experience to ask questions regarding how institutions of higher learning are run.

“Accreditation [of teachers] takes no account of the quality of teaching,” he said in response to a question about the role of government in education.

Archived article by Chris Barnes
Sun Staff Writer