This course studies the object of architecture—canonical buildings in the history of architecture—not through the lens of reaction and nostalgia but through a filter of contemporary thought. The emphasis is on learning how to see and to think architecture by a method that can be loosely called “formal analysis.” The analyses move through history and conclude with examples of high modernism and postmodernism. Reading assignments and one formal analysis are assigned each week.

It is the role of this school to prepare students for excellence in architecture. Excellence is one of the most difficult concepts for an incoming graduate architecture student to understand. What then is excellence, and what is architecture? These two questions animate this course and are the basis for its pedagogy. One of these is learning to see as an architect. All graduate students in architecture believe, because of a lifetime of being in and around buildings, that they know what architecture is; they think they know what their subject is. Therefore, one of the first activities in this class is one of unlearning. I remember my shock when traveling with Colin Rowe in Italy in the summer of 1961, after my first year of teaching at Cambridge. Rowe said to me in front of my first Palladian villa: “Tell me something about the villa that you cannot see.” He did not want me to tell him about its three stories, about its material rustication, about its symmetrical window arrangement; these were obvious and seeable. But an architect must learn to see beyond the facts of perception. An architect must see as an expert, as different from the average user. This expertise implies two things. First, being able to see, as a form of close reading, the not present–the unseen. Second, and probably more importantly, an architect is a maker, not just a reader. While making is the domain of the studio, it is a synthetic activity well served by formal literacy. In order to make that which contains ‘what cannot be seen,’ one has to know what that is, i.e. in order to make what can be close read, one has to know also how to close read. This then is a class about a particular kind of learning, i.e. seeing and reading. Therefore, the intention of this course is to create collaboration between the three basic core design activities–studio, visualization, and formal analysis. And the first and most basic form of formal analysis is close reading.


The goal of this class is to learn to see and read as an architect, through a weekly series of comparative analyses, which move from the late medieval, the theocentric, to the early renaissance, the humanism of anthropocentricity, to the beginning of the enlightenment of the late 18th century. This survey is not intended historically but as an introduction to two other aspects of architecture: the idea of precedence and the idea of authority. The fact that many of these architects come to their authority through Mannerism – a movement that dissented from the norms of the High Renaissance – not only suggests a differentiation between authority and power, but also speaks to the significance of estrangement and ineloquence in architecture.

Each week there will be an illustrated lecture of 1-½ hours and a drawing review of 1-½ hours. The purpose of the drawing each week will be to see if you can conceptualize in drawing what has been presented in your reading and the lecture. Seeing, therefore, becomes a way of thinking, and drawing as a way of reading. Thus, each week there will be three aspects to your work: assigned reading, assigned drawing, and attendance at the lecture and drawing review. The drawing reviews will take place from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM on Thursdays. All drawings must be turned in to your section Teaching Fellows (TFs) by 9:00 PM on Wednesday night before the corresponding Thursday lecture. Late drawings will not be accepted; see Policy on Late Drawings and Absences. The “pencils down” rule has been instituted in order to better coordinate assignment deadlines between the design studio, the history/theory sequence, and the visualization curriculum.

The class will be divided into five sections, each of which will meet on Tuesday nights with an assigned TF for drawing instruction and reading discussion. Weekly paragraphs (no more than 300 words) must be submitted to assigned TFs Monday evening before individual meetings on Tuesday. The paragraph should outline an idea for the drawing or put forth a critique of the readings/lecture that may in turn inform the drawing. Each section will meet with Professor Eisenman and Elisa Iturbe twice during the course of the semester, once every five weeks at 8:30 AM on Thursdays in the drawing room to review in a small group the progress of student work. In addition, the teaching fellows are available to any student throughout each week.

Teaching assistants and 8:30AM Thursday section meetings are as follows:

Section A: Isabelle Song (15 September, 27 October) Section B: Spencer Fried (22 September, 3 November) Section C: Wesley Hiatt (29 September, 10 November) Section D: James Coleman (13 October, 17 November) Section E: Elaina Berkowitz (20 October, 1 December)

Final project and portfolio review

At the end of the semester, students will be provided with a list of building pairs: the projects they studied over the course of the semester will each be paired with a contemporary building. Students will be asked to pick one of these pairs and use the analytical tools they learned during the semester in order to produce a drawing that compares both buildings. The drawing should juxtapose and/or differentiate formal strategies–or devices–across style, site, and program, in order to help students become fluent in the formal structures of architecture. For reference, students should reread Colin Rowe’s The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa.

Policy on late drawings and absences

Although the school has a clear policy on late work and absences, in the past this has not been uniformly enforced. In an attempt to bring a more cohesive and coordinated curriculum to the First Year Core design, history/theory, and visualization sequence, the following guidelines have been established in all three disciplines: any combination of three unexcused absences or late drawings will be grounds for a Low Pass. Any further delinquencies will be grounds for course failure.

Review of work

In an attempt to ameliorate past complaints, the TFs will determine, after collection of the work, which two or three drawings from their sections will be critiqued during the drawing review. While every attempt will be made to review each students’ work at least twice in the semester, only work which raises subjects related to the problematics of the course will be discussed.

All Semesters

Fall 2018
Formal Analysis
Peter Eisenman, Anthony Gagliardi
Fall 2017
Formal Analysis
Peter Eisenman, Elisa Iturbe
Fall 2015
Formal Analysis: Close Reading and Formal Analysis
Peter Eisenman, Miroslava Brooks