This post is actually only indirectly about architecture and society. It’s actually about a class at UT Austin of the same name.
If I was going to recommend only one class at the University of Texas at Austin to all undergraduate students, it would be Architecure and Society (ARC308).
I’m certainly no academic advisor, but I really appreciated this course which I took as a freshmen in the spring of 2004. Taught by long time architecture professor Dr. Larry Speck, this intro to the study of architecture changed the way I saw the world around me. What was merely a building became a man’s dreams realized and erected. What was merely an arch became the zenith of cultural achievement.
Perhaps it was the simplest of principles that struck me most: a line of swallows on wires as a picture of rhythm. I had known that the world had a natural order bespeaking a creator, but had never heard of the golden section, of man’s own proportionately designed body, or even of the old adage that form follows function.
Each class class Dr. Speck presents a survey of outstanding buildings throughout history, from Stonehenge to the Parthenon, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry. As he speaks about his buildings he invites you to consider the principles behind good architecture and the influence architecture has had on society and vice versa. I believe it was in this course that I first heard the maxim:
First we shape our buildings, then they shape us. -Winston Churchill, 1943
Dr. Speck would have you consider, perhaps for the first time, such an architecturally determinant world.
The workload is on the heavy side, with three books, three papers and three exams, but it’s worth all the energy you’ll devote. As the course progresses you’ll learn a lot about architecture to be sure, but perhaps more importantly, you’ll be equipped to see and appreciate the architecture surrounding you every day.
Recently I had a conversation with someone who wanted to study architectural engineering. It was interesting to hear her give her reasons: she was strong in math yet also creative. It would be a good fit, and she had her family’s support. Then she mentioned seeing a building that inspired her and all of a sudden her eyes lit up. It was as if she was seeing it again. That was sort of what happened to me. I saw buildings in Architecture and Society that made my eyes light up, made me gasp. To this day I see buildings differently because of that class. I only hope it will be the same with the eternal building.