The course probes the significance of lightness as a condition of architectural modernity. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the ancient requirement that architecture embody solidity was fundamentally transformed by new materials in which strength and stability could be achieved with relatively light and slender materials. Such material transformations were culturally ambivalent. Lightness was linked to ideas of dematerialization, taking to the air, and a new culture of transparency. Yet it was also associated with the loss of gravity, derealization, and rootlessness. While the elimination of extraneous weight has been associated with efficiency, nimbleness, and a judicious use of resources, it has also been mobilized in designs for warfare and colonization over the last two centuries. Students will consider some of the major positions around the conception of “light modernity,” learn about key buildings and projects since the nineteenth century that have been defined by the problem of lightness, and critically examine differing historical claims about lightness.

Key questions include: How was lightness conceptualized, imagined, valued at different historical moments? What material and economic relationships were necessary to the production of lightness? In which political and disciplinary frameworks did lightness emerge and unfold? How do arguments about lightness continue to inform contemporary debates about ecology, sustainability, and energy in the built environment today?

There are no prerequisites. The course is intended for students in architecture, the history of art, and in the environmental humanities.