PLAN 87: Article
Toward A Wider View Of Architectural History

A $1M Grant to Create a Global Teaching Collaborative

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded MIT's School of Architecture + Planning a $1M grant to help create a Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative.

Headed at MIT by SA+P’s Mark Jarzombek, Associate Dean and Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture, the Collaborative will consist of scholars who will produce classroom materials for teachers and professors in charge of architectural history at the undergraduate or survey level. The materials will be made available worldwide free of cost online.

The effort is a response to new requirements from the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), which call for instruction in the history of architecture to include non-Western material. As a result, teachers of architectural survey courses – usually taught at either the Bachelor's and/or Master’s levels – are struggling to figure out how best to fulfill this requirement.

Most who currently teach architectural history are well versed in Western history and rely on a largely Eurocentric approach, organizing material by national-based or style-based categories such as ‘Italian’, ‘French’, ‘Chinese’ and ‘The Renaissance’. Indeed, among the 140 or so schools of architecture, about 50% still only teach the Western Tradition.

The rest of the schools include a token ‘non-Western’ component, usually bringing in additional experts to cover (for example) China and India. But the larger challenge is to truly re-think the architectural survey course from a global perspective – to overhaul the categories and structures by which material is organized as a way to transform history education at its roots by reshaping its teaching at the survey level.

Beyond the issue of methodology, educators also face a challenge in the availability of content. Archaeological material is not always easily accessible to teachers nor always easily translatable into lecture format. Documentation of sites in Africa and Asia are either non-existent or have not been published. Context analysis is also often missing or inadequate for the teaching of architectural history. And finally, as the canon of buildings, landscapes and cities becomes ever more inclusive, structures are continually being added to the list of important edifices with little to explain their importance.

With the help of committed global history teachers, the Teaching Collaborative will assemble a team of scholars to produce and assemble an array of teaching materials and tools – maps, images, drawings, syllabi, teaching modules, discussions sets, etc. – emphasizing transnational and transgeographical perspectives and designed either to be used ‘as is’ or as a foundation for further transformations.

Over the next three years, the Collaborative will also prepare and test a set of teaching modules and strategies: not necessarily always a full 24-lecture sequence but a module of various possible lengths – say from 3 - 5 weeks – or modules that can be designed as 'inserts' in existing courses.

The project will fund about seven mini-grants per year, for three years, to research and develop teaching modules; an annual conference in the fall of each year to discuss and refine teaching modules; curriculum transformation grants; and a web-enabled database and other dissemination strategies.

In addition to Jarzombek, the project is led by Vikramaditya Prak?sh at the University of Washington. The project builds on their jointly authored book (with Francis D.K. Ching), A Global History of Architecture (Wiley Press, 2006), one of Jarzombek’s two highly regarded books in the field. (The other is Architecture of First Societies: A Global Perspective, just released from Wiley Press.)

The Board is composed of Jarzombek, Prak?sh, Gail Fenske (Roger Williams University), Adnan Morshed (Catholic University of America), Robert Cowherd (Wentworth Institute of Technology) and Suzanne Marchand (Louisiana State University).

The grant in support of the new MIT program is one of 13 made so far to major institutions of higher education and research. As part of its mission to advance meaningful work in the humanities and the arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2012 launched an initiative, ‘Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities’, to support scholarship and higher education at the intersection of architecture and the humanities. The initiative emphasizes the joint contributions that the humanities and the design and planning disciplines may make to the understanding of the processes and effects of burgeoning urbanization.