We wake up in rooms, walk out onto streets, zip along roads in moving vehicles; we work and play, pray and protest, mourn and celebrate in spaces designated and designed for each activity. All this is architecture. It is the physical framework of society, the material theater of our lives. This course seeks to understand buildings as they shape social practices through history, grouped around the functions of Shelter, Ritual, Discipline, Community, and Power. Focusing on Europe and America from the fifteenth century to the present, we will embark on a historical journey guided by a set of ancient or mythical archetypes. These archetypal structures (the “primitive hut,” the Egyptian obelisk, the Greek agora, the Roman aqueduct, and others) have defined the modern meanings of architecture through its uses. On our way, we will explore both elite monuments and everyday structures: the Washington Mall and the U.S. interstate highway system, the royal palace of Versailles, and the plantation slave cabin. We will discuss how architecture is embedded in broader social and cultural histories, creating connections to fields of study such as economics, engineering, government, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and religious studies. Our goal will be to understand the fundamentals of architectural design, experience, and interpretation through reading discussions, speculative writing projects, field trips, and hands-on studio work. Is architecture an art or a service? Who is an architect and how does a person become one? Why do buildings look the way they do, and what makes them stand up? Such will be the core questions of architectural knowledge explored in this course.




 Students may not receive credit for this course and AHI 123.

This course is initially open to first-year and sophomore students. It will be open to all students after first-year students have pre-registered. 

Cross Listed Courses

This is the same course as ARC 103.


No previous experience in art history is required.

Enrollment Limit

Enrollment limited to 28 students.