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Learning to Look at Western Architecture

This course is designed to enable students to ‘read’ the architecture of the Western world in a critically informed way.
University of Oxford University Offices Wellington Square Oxford ,OX1 2JD United Kingdom
(4418) 65270000

Course at a Glance

Mode of learning : Online - Instructor Lead(LVC)

Domain / Subject : Humanities

Function : General

Trainer name : Dr David Morgan

Starts on : 24th Sep 2014

Duration : 10 Weeks

Difficulty : Advanced

About the course

Architecture is the quintessential ‘public’ art form. The work of architects surrounds us all, every day of our lives, shaping and conditioning our experience of the world in ways which are as subtle as they are inescapable. Yet the practice of architects does not take place - and has never taken place - in a vacuum: architects continually engage with the architectural styles and practices of the past, shaping the architectural forms of the present from the vast reservoir of forms and styles bequeathed by the western architectural tradition.

This course aims to give students an introduction and overview of that architectural tradition – enabling students to ‘read’ the architecture of the contemporary built environment in a critically informed way. Students will learn to recognise and differentiate between the major architectural styles of the western tradition – and will thus gain a greater understanding of the way that buildings are built, and why they look the way they do.

Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to the broad stylistic history of western architecture, by:

  • guiding them through selected contemporary and historical readings;
  • helping them to recognise the salient features of the western architectural tradition, as manifested within the contemporary built environment.

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Teaching Outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to understand:

  • the overall chronological and stylistic progressions within the western architectural tradition; 
  • the historical origins of the styles and forms of contemporary architecture; 
  • that the architecture of any period results from a complex dialogue between the needs of the present and the styles and forms of the past.

Course eligibility

Course Requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following paperback book:

  • Sutton, I., Western Architecture: A Survey (Thames & Hudson, London, 1999) ISBN 0500203164

Recommended, though not required:

  • Summerson, J., Architecture in Britain 1530-1830 (Yale University Press, Yale/London, 1953) ISBN 0300058861
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Course Content

The areas you will cover in this course are:

  • Introduction and a starting point: Classical Architecture - Principles and Foundations: 
  • Gothic Architecture – Styles and Interpretations
  • Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque 
  • Case Study (1) – The English Baroque 
  • The Classical Revival: an overview of the rise of neo-Classicism
  • Case Study (2): English neo-Classicism
  • Nineteenth Century Eclecticism 
  • Case Study (3): the Victorian City
  • The Modern Movement
  • Today and Tomorrow – The Contemporary Built Environment

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