No historian of architecture has written more critically about the contradictions of architecture in late-modern society or reflected more deeply on the tasks of architectural historiography than Manfredo Tafuri (1935–94). The seminar undertakes a close reading of one of Tafuri’s richest books, The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. Originally published in 1980 and translated in 1987, it appeared at the midpoint of the Italian historian’s career and at a pivotal moment in relation to postmodernism. The first sustained effort to define and historicize the concept of avant-gardism specifically in relation to architecture, the book opens with a challenging methodological introduction, “The Historical ‘Project.” It then turns to Piranesi and the impact of his drawings before traversing a range of architectural and urban developments in Europe and the United States during the early twentieth century. It concludes with two chapters on the neo-avant-gardes of the 1960s and ’70s. The chapter-by-chapter reading is supplemented with primary documents and critical interpretations. Over the course of the semester each student identifies a research topic leading to a final term paper. Concerned equally with history and historiography—with specific architectural and urban contexts as well as with the ways they are written into history—the class questions the role and function of avant-gardes in architecture. Is the concept of an avant-garde architecture still meaningful today or should it be relegated to the dustbin of twentieth-century ideas? Open to Ph.D. students and to others with permission of the instructor.

All Semesters

Spring 2020
The Idea of an Avant-Garde in Architecture: Reading Manfredo Tafuri’s The Sphere and the Labyrinth
Joan Ockman