Building Theories: Architecture as the Art of Building speaks to the value of words in architecture. It addresses my fascination with the voices of architects, engineers, builders, and craftspeople whose ideas about building, however faint, have been captured in text. It discusses the content of treatises, essays, articles, and letters by those who have been, throughout history, committed to the art of building. In this, Building Theories argues for the return of a practice of architectural theory that is set amongst building, buildings, and builders. This journey of close reading reinterprets the words of Vitruvius, Alberti, de L’Orme, Le Camus de Mézières, Boullée, Laugier, Rondelet, Semper, Viollet-le-Duc, Hübsch, Bötticher, Berlage, Muthesius, Wagner, Behrendt, Gropius, and Arup. With chapters dedicated to antiquity, the Renaissance, and the nineteenth century, and with a critical eye on a version of theory popularized in the Anglo-Saxon world post-1968, readers are introduced to a wider, more inclusive definition of architectural ideas. Building Theories considers how contemporary scholarship has steered away from the topic of building in its reluctance to admit that both design and construction are central to its concerns. In response, it argues for a realignment of architecture with the concept of techné, with a dual commitment to fabrica e ratio, with a productive return to l’art de bien bastir, with the accurate translation of the term Baukunst, and with an appeal to the architect’s ‘composite mind.’ Students, practitioners, and educators will identify in Building Theories ways of thinking that strive for the integration of design with construction; reject the assumed primacy of the former over the latter; recognize how aesthetics are an insufficient scaffold for subtending the subject of architectural ethics; and accept, without reservation, that material transformations have always been at the origins of built form.
Architectural theory is a well-articulated field seeing as throughout the centuries, architects, scholars, and critics have explicated its givens via publications. And yet, the recent history of architectural theory has revealed serious challenges ahead. More than ever, theory’s relevance to both those who design and those who build is questioned. Overwhelmed by technological exigencies and the bureaucratization of their profession, little time remains for theoretical considerations on the part of architects. Conversely, the building industry, with its material, economic, and political constraints, is rarely at the center of architectural speculations by architects, students, theorists, or critics. The labor of builders, diminishing global resources, and the economic aspirations of clients is sparingly of concern to those principally guided by questions of formal analysis, design influence, philosophical correspondences, and semiotics. More critically, students, educators, practitioners, and builders have recently lost sight of the work and words of architects who once actively reflected and deliberated on the process and meaning of building. When and how did the definition of theory transform to preclude the very subject and object at the center of the architect’s practice?
To answer such questions, rehabilitating our understanding of architectural theory and articulating an alternative path for thinking through building is required. A renewed focus on the very acts and circumstances that define how design, culture, and construction shape the built environment is needed. To this end, a work of architectural theory that redefines its very principles is the goal of Building Theories: Architecture as the Art of Building, which identifies the work of architecture as both the thing made and that which it means.