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A Primer on Theory in Architecture discusses how theory is defined in architecture,

how it is identified, its location in larger perspectives or worldviews, its relation-
ships to other areas in architecture, and how it can be constructed. The book
explores the definition, elements and characteristics of theory along with subjects
associated with theory and how these associations are recognized. In addition, case
studies tackle both individual theorists and common approaches to the topic.
Aimed at the new student of architectural theory, if you are just beginning to
tackle this subject, begin with this book.

Karen Cordes Spence, Ph.D., AIA, teaches design studios and theory in
architecture. Her work focuses on making these subjects both intriguing and clear
for beginning students. Her research also explores the way in which phenome-
nological interpretations tap into the power of connections able to be made
through architecture.
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Karen Cordes Spence





First published 2017
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
and by Routledge
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
© 2017 Karen Cordes Spence
The right of Karen Cordes Spence to be identified as author of this work has
been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now
known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any
information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered
trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Spence, Karen Cordes, author.
Title: A primer on theory in architecture / Karen Cordes Spence.
Description: New York : Routledge, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references
and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016026504 | ISBN 9781138912397 (hb : alk. paper) |
ISBN 9781138912410 (pb : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781315691947 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Architecture--Philosophy. | Architecture and philosophy.
Classification: LCC NA2500 .S657 2017 | DDC 720.1--dc23
LC record available at

ISBN: 978-1-138-91239-7 (hbk)

ISBN: 978-1-138-91241-0 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-1-315-69194-7 (ebk)

Typeset in Bembo
by Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd.
For Rod, Sarah and Lauren
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Preface x

Introduction: Exploring the subject of theory in

architecture 1
Why theory in architecture needs exploration 1
How theory in architecture has escaped investigation 5
The approach for this work 7
An overview of the discussions in the book 16
Notes 19

1 Defining theory 21
Introduction 21
The history of the term 22
Theorizing and theorems 26
The elements of theorizing 28
An observation of a pattern or interruption in a pattern 30
A theorist 34
The activity of theorizing 35
A resulting theorem 35
Characteristics of theorizing 36
Theorizing operates within a paradigm 36
Theorizing is general 37
Theorizing is abstract 39
Theorizing is independent of specific linguistics 41
Theorizing is a claim to truth or accuracy with the
world 42
viii Contents

Theorizing results in theorems that are able to be tested or

assessed 43
Theorizing does not deviate substantially from existing
theorizing and theorems within the same paradigm 44
Theorizing is not recurrent 44
Theorizing never ceases 44
Notes 47

2 The paradigms that ground theorizing 50

Introduction 50
Ontology, epistemology and methodology 54
Ontology 55
Epistemology 55
Methodology 56
Four worldviews 57
Positivism 57
Post-positivism 58
Critical theory 59
Constructivism 60
The cacophony of worldviews 62
Worldviews in the discipline 64
The importance of coherency 74
Recognizing a network of theory in architecture 80
Notes 81

3 The place of theory in the discipline 84

Introduction 84
Theory and history 89
The relationship of theory and history 89
Defining history 89
Connections between theory and history 93
Theorems of history 98
Theory and design 99
The relationship of theory and design 99
Defining design 100
Descriptions of the design process 101
The stages of analysis–synthesis 102
Decision trees 103
Reflection-in-action 105
Conjecture–analysis 106
A note about heuristics 107
Consistencies in the design process 108
Contents ix

Distinguishing the design process from theorizing 109

The interactions of the design process and theorizing 110
Theory and criticism 115
The relationship of theory and criticism 115
Defining criticism 115
The interactions of criticism and theorizing 117
The nature of criticism 119
Theory and manifestoes 122
The relationship between theory and manifestoes 122
Defining a manifesto 123
The connections of manifestoes and theorizing 125
Theory and other writings 126
The relationship of theory to other writings 126
The connections of relationships 128
Notes 129

4 Engaging in theorizing and the construction of theorems 132

Introduction 132
A checklist for theorizing 132
Take time to reflect on your observations of the world 132
Become familiar with writings that address the same or
similar observations 133
Articulate how the theorizing differs from ones that are
similar 134
Review the theorizing for its ability to be general in nature
rather than specific 134
Review the theorizing for its ability to be abstract in nature
rather than connected to particular phenomena 135
Review the work for its ability to be communicated in
different ways 135
Review the work for accuracy with the world 135
Test the work 135
Remember that theorizing never ends 136
Be aware of and respect the entire iterative process that
involves theorizing 136

Bibliography 138
Index 142

If you are interested in obtaining a better understanding of the theoretical discussions

in architecture, then this book is for you. But if you think you know less than you
should about the subject of theory in architecture or have no patience for most of
this theoretical rhetoric yet are interested in developing a solid understanding for
your design endeavors, then this book is most certainly for you. This work doesn’t
attempt to be yet another theoretical position, critique of the field or an anthology
of theorems. Instead it offers an introductory discussion of what “theory” is in
architecture and how it operates. It aims to start a straightforward conversation that
provides a helpful foundation for those who find themselves engaged in anything
related to what may be thought to be theoretical in design, whether this engagement
occurs through choice, need or even force.
This book emerged as a response to a lack of such introductory discussions.
Perhaps there is an absence of these discussions because theory is often stereotyped,
perceived to require advanced levels of thinking or specialized knowledge and
anyone who engages in it would be expected to be adequately prepared. It also
may be thought that theory in architecture is complex and diverse, and an overall
understanding of it would be clumsy or difficult to create. Yet after years of
studying and teaching the subject, it is my belief that none of these assumptions is
accurate. Direct, candid conversations about theory in architecture are not only
long overdue but essential for the health and progress of our profession.
My intention in what follows is to provide a basis for architects that keeps the
subject of theory at the center of the investigation. It does not wander into promoting
or condemning particular theories, but tries to stay true to presenting the entirety
of the subject. While I do discuss my own belief system in regards to the views
shared, it is hoped that these views are not seen as attempting to indoctrinate but to
stay honest to the dialogue. In addition, this book does not provide an overview of
numerous theories; instead it focuses on what constitutes the subject of theory as
Preface xi

well as its characteristics, influences and relationships. My goal is to help establish a

solid foundation that enables a person to be well equipped in comprehending
writings that may or may not contain theories in architecture or even aid in
constructing new theoretical works.
As a result, it is hoped that the discussions included will be beneficial for a wide
range of audiences. Students will find that the book aims to serve as a roadmap of
sorts, enabling them to better see the landscape of thoughtful conversations in
design. Specifically, they will be able to identify the elements and characteristics of
the subject of theory as well as grasp the relationships of various subjects in the
field. Practicing architects and design enthusiasts will be able to review the included
ideas and gain new insight about these dialogues. Those who are complete novices
in the debate will be able to establish a foundation that allows them to pursue
further work in this area, even gaining insight in regards to how theorizing may be
engaged. While many designers probably understand more than they think they do
about theory, many may understand less than what enables them to separate the
critical concepts from the extraneous material. My intention is that every reader
will be able to comprehend the subject of theory in a clearer, more useful way.
Because I believe that there is no single correct way of perceiving any subject,
this approach to the subject of theory is recognized to be only one possibility of
how it may be framed. Other conventions are no less plausible. This view of
theory aims to be not only approachable for those just beginning in these con-
versations, but also deep enough to provide thorough insight and information for
those who are already facile with some of these discussions and ready to study
theoretical issues more closely. While it is my hope that the material presented here
establishes an extensive examination of theory for use by a wide variety of readers,
it also aims at presenting a broad and flexible understanding that can be employed
as supporting materials for future work.
The organization for the book responds to these goals. The introduction
explains how this investigation will focus on contributing to a basic understanding
of the subject of theory, differentiating it from anthologies of theoretical writings
or critiques. The first chapter identifies the elements that comprise theorizing and
distinguishes this from the resulting theorems, allowing us to grasp the contents in a
way that helps us begin to be able to recognize the work. An exploration of the
characteristics of theorizing furthers this understanding, creating a rich description
that begins to better define what theory is and what it is not. These discussions
create a set of identifying markers, establishing properties that help develop a list of
traits of theory. This work establishes a central focus for the subject and offers an
approach that maintains a looseness as information is able to be widely interpreted
and applied. The second chapter offers a discussion of belief systems that works
with this description of theory and furthers the possibilities of interpretations,
exploring how different worldviews ground theoretical investigations. The effects
of this basis are often shortchanged but an extensive look at its role demonstrates its
influence. The third chapter provides a review of how the subject of theory
operates both within and along with other subjects in the field, examining the
xii Preface

relationships of theory with history, design, criticism and manifestoes more closely.
The connections begin to shed light on how these subjects form an overall network
that constitutes design. Finally, the last chapter provides an outline for those inter-
ested in developing or assessing theories, hoping to help clarify the nature of the
I am grateful for the opportunity to share this view of theory and extend my
appreciation for the many people who have helped make this possible. When I
reflect upon my career and identify the milestones and turning points that culminated
in this book, I recognize my fortune in having a number of individuals who have
inspired and encouraged my work. Jeff Shannon has been my mentor since my
undergraduate days, providing advice over the last three decades. I cannot thank
him enough for his friendship and his interest in my pursuits. Yvonna Lincoln, John
Hancock and Bill Widdowson were all instrumental in constructing an array of
phenomenal studies at the graduate level, helping to shape my understandings of
different ways of seeing the world. Conversations with them echo throughout this
book. I would also like to thank a group of colleagues at Drury University and
beyond, most notably Erin Kenny, Katie Gilbert, Elizabeth Nichols and Carla
Corroto, who shared their views, ideas, research and writing activities and helped
to keep these endeavors focused and enjoyable in the midst of what always seem to
be curious academic and architectural contexts. Their insight, passion, humor and
friendship has been an incredible support. Thanks should also be extended to my
daughters, Sarah and Lauren, for understanding my time spent on this project,
always making me laugh and keeping it fun, and giving me perspective on what really
matters. Most of all, I would like to thank my husband Rod, who has continuously
encouraged and supported my efforts to complete this project, always believed in
my work and has always been my biggest ally in everything I do.

Karen Cordes Spence

Springfield, Missouri
May 2016

Why theory in architecture needs exploration

Theory in architecture is a curious subject: while it is abstract and often stereotyped
as elitist and cerebral, it is also understood to be an integral part of design con-
versations that range from basic discussions about everyday endeavors to debates on
the overall thinking and work of the profession. It is capable of operating at both
individual and collective levels, playing an active role in guiding the creation of
personal endeavors while also serving as a common bond for conversations invol-
ving intellectual power and influence, even able to shape the course of an entire
field. The numerous roles and forms of this subject make it difficult to grasp, and
achieving a sufficient knowledge of it may seem improbable to many who are just
beginning to study architecture. Questions can quickly arise about the role and use
of theory and the way in which it is navigated and implemented. Designers often
recognize that the need for direction is essential whether or not they embrace,
debate or even dismiss theory, but the fundamental and persuasive nature of the
subject can be daunting. Any design activity seems risky because the hidden power
of theory can easily overshadow or consume explorations, making no move an
innocent one.
To complicate matters further, discussions touted as theory in architecture often
bypass any attention to theory as a subject to focus instead on what it addresses or
how it is practiced. The content that is addressed usually takes center stage to
dominate everything else, leaving the structure and nature of the inquiry ignored.
It is easy to see how such a situation occurs as there seems to be an inherent
urgency on the part of designers and historians to devote their writing to the pro-
vision of quality design directives or the championing of selected issues. Yet how
can we debate the role of issues such as culture, society and ethics in theory or how
2 Introduction

FIGURE 0.1 The content is the focus of theoretical works because this material is the
reason that the message is developed and shared.

theory is employed in practice without clarifying what it is that we mean by

“theory” itself?
It is my belief that any effort to shed light on the subject of theory in archi-
tecture helps its definition and power be better understood and put into operation.
Presently, most of our knowledge of theory in architecture is ascertained in what
can be described as a kind of reverse approach, obtained when we take on the task
of sifting through the theoretical works themselves—however those are identified.
That is, we read writings in the field that are recognized as theory to try to attempt
to comprehend not only the issues being discussed but also the nature of this body
of thought and how it operates in architecture. Assimilating an understanding from
particular instances rather than developing a much larger, more general view seems
to be an inverted way to get at the subject. Learning theory in this manner is
similar to studying a multitude of individual recipes in order to learn to cook,
which doesn’t necessarily ensure that the principles of cooking are grasped in a way
that produces adequate knowledge of the kitchen or enables a person to make her
own recipes.1 The creation of a situation in which a subject is understood only
through an inductive method, or studying the isolated pieces in order to make
generalizations, has limited the way theory in architecture is able to be
Consider these typical scenarios for learning theory in architecture: designers
fascinated with particular lines of thought plunge into an investigation of the
writings to cobble together ideas, creating a network of related understandings.
Others may only tentatively dabble in these texts, preferring to study a narrow set
of particular debates. Regardless of how vigorously or broadly the effort is pursued,
the students of theory become familiar with and learn what are assumed to be
Introduction 3

FIGURE 0.2 Learning about theory through investigations of different theoretical works
is a challenging and ineffective process because it requires explorations of
each individual work.

theoretical discussions from various sources. Frameworks of understanding are

developed. Coming to terms with the message while stepping back to consider a
period of time or cultural perspective, becoming aware of a context, or grasping
some other formative influence creates a basis for this work. Solid knowledge of
the material is achieved. In retrospect, particular aspects and views of the subject
have been absorbed, seeing the work in a specific light. However, mastering
familiarity with certain arguments cannot be equated to learning the subject of
theory because these individual discussions are not representative of the whole.
Worse yet, whether or not these writings are theory and their role in the subject
has often not been made clear, if even considered.
Sometimes individuals have attempted to extend these isolated studies by gathering
them together in categories based on the content of the discussions, but this generally
results in some identification of the similarities and differences between the indi-
vidual investigations. Chronological developments can be considered, compiling
another list of distinctions that still doesn’t inform us about the entirety of the
subject. While the topics or content are often intriguing and command attention, after
a period of study it becomes apparent that these are almost interchangeable elements,
able to respond to various issues at will. Can a call for culture in one argument be
substituted for a desire for tectonics in another? Can we really argue whether
timelessness is more valued than function? In the end, is the study of theory in
4 Introduction

architecture reduced to prioritizing one argument over another? These comparisons

bring little respect for theory in architecture or help to engender any belief in its
resulting effectiveness. It is as if these examinations cheat the potential of the subject,
reducing the material to arguments between one choice over another.
While I will be among the first to admit that the conversations about culture,
function and a number of other issues are great debates and should never be dis-
missed, turning the focus to why the writings that argue these topics are considered
theories and what this means is vital if we want to shed light on theory as a subject.
We have overlooked the heart of a vital formative part of our discipline. While

FIGURE 0.3 Theories are able to be classified in various ways, including different subject
groupings or chronologically, yet these still do not provide an explanation of
the subject of theory.
Introduction 5

there may be many diverse kinds of theoretical endeavors, being able to evaluate
these works establishes valuable knowledge for understanding its potential.
By shifting the examination toward theory as a subject, it is possible to obtain a
perspective that increases our ability to exercise its use and strengths. This investigation
of the subject of theory in architecture examines its position and role in the field,
defines what it is and is not, and advances ways in which it can be identified. It is
written for the student of architecture who desires a better grasp of theory, whether
this serves to help establish a broad view of perspectives in archite, aids with
analytical understandings, or assists with the construction of one’s own theoretical
works. Rather than focusing on myriad architecture theories themselves, the dis-
cussions in this book concentrate on defining theory, its elements and characteristics,
how it depends on and is influenced by different worldviews, and the ways in
which it relates to design, history, criticism, manifestoes and other writings. A final
discussion proposes a way to construct theory, suggesting ways to begin its develop-
ment. In short, this work aims to serve as a primer on theory in architecture for all
students of architecture, whether they are learning the field, seasoned practitioners,
or just simply fond of the built environment.

How theory in architecture has escaped investigation

It may be argued that theory in architecture is already understood and that there is
no need for such an explanation, or even that architecture isn’t in need of theory
any longer. Without question, a wealth of theoretical endeavors has strengthened
and enriched our field over time, whether or not their presence or use is currently
in vogue. Such a body of work stands as a testament to the ability of designers to
communicate their thoughts and ideas. An abundance of theoretical texts has been
advanced since the 1960s, addressing a diversity of issues while also using the term
“theory” in specific, even particularized, ways. Yet this discussion is constrained as
the subject of theory remains largely unexplored in architecture and the theoretical
activities in the field remain embedded in conversations of history, politics, society
and culture. Knowledge about theory in architecture has been assumed for too
long. When and where does it exist, and how is it recognized? What differentiates
it from histories, design processes, criticisms, manifestoes and other work? How
would a designer begin to construct a theory of architecture?
A quick look at recognized writings shows a varied use of the term: in his Topaz
Medallion Address, Kenneth Frampton first refers to the term “theory” as “an elaborate
discourse,” then talks of a need for a “theory of fabrication” rather than a “theory
of legitimization,” seeming to imply that theory ranges from a discussion to a pre-
scription or explanation.2 Rem Koolhaas declares in S, M, L, XL that “Delirious
New York implied a latent ‘Theory of BIGNESS’ based on five theorems,” insinuating
the presence of some kind of supporting or hierarchical system within theoretical
work.3 Sarah Whiting speaks of architecture’s “ability to slip in and out of critical
theory’s rule,” citing a particular kind of theory with a particular kind of relation-
ship to the field.4 David Leatherbarrow speaks of “two kinds of understanding in
6 Introduction

the theory of architectural performance,” indicating that a single theory can be

acknowledged to have different interpretations.5 K. Michael Hays explains theory
as “a practice of mediation” and “transcoding” in Architecture Theory Since 1968.6
Kate Nesbitt defines theory as a “catalytic” discourse that can be characterized by
type: prescriptive, proscriptive, affirmative or critical.7 In these instances alone, the
term under examination is understood to indicate a discourse, prescription, expla-
nation, and a practice. Sometimes theory seems to be explained as numerous
existing bodies while at other times it seems to suggest a particular body or a larger,
more generalized process or way of working that has specific characteristics. These
understandings are not necessarily incongruent, but they are diverse enough to
recognize that wide variations in the meaning of the term are in play. While I have
no doubt that each of the thinkers noted here grasp the meanings and roles of
theory, readers are left to make sense of these differences. An awareness of the
discord in the usage of this term introduces questions about ways to approach or
resolve a larger understanding of the subject. This is not to imply that the landscape
of theory in architecture is not promising or insightful, but it is certainly not
transparent at the outset; nor is it easy to comprehend through simple exposure to
what are considered theoretical writings. I believe a general discussion that
addresses these differences will not only assist in the reading of a wide variety of
important texts addressing architecture but also serve with the sharing of ideas,
helping to continue development in the field.
Another way of tracking the confusion about theory in architecture is witnessed
in the plentiful and popular anthologies on the subject. One would think that these
works would help to foster clarity, but I believe these collections have inad-
vertently complicated the situation. The assembled works employ numerous
understandings of theory without illuminating why they are considered theories
and what their differences indicate and offer. There is an assumption that these
volumes are centered on the subject of theory, yet the diverging understandings of
this topic are not addressed or interrogated, which results in granting theoretical
status to works for unexplained reasons. Theory in architecture remains largely
mysterious. This may be a polite oversight in order to privilege certain designers
and writers but the move wreaks havoc on theory as a focus of study. It is not that
a narrow and specific conception of theory is sought; rather, the richness and depth
of the topic are glossed over when theory is assumed rather than discussed, leaving
what is supposed to be an essential understanding largely ignored. Only a few of the
present anthologies discuss or define theory, yet curiously even these interpretations
are disseminated early and dismissed, divorced from the writings that are prefaced
with a note regarding the context, if that. While these anthologies present great
collections of writings, questioning why the works are considered to be theoretical
is long overdue.
To be fair, the purpose of these anthologies is to assemble works on a particular
subject, not to provide definitions or explore discrepancies. In addition, these
assemblies are complex compositions that presume an understanding of the subject.
K. Michael Hays even states that his anthology requires some knowledge of recent
Introduction 7

intellectual development and specifically asserts that the text should not serve as an
introduction to theory in the field.8 Such a perspective needs to be taken into
account with any anthology as each collection is obviously generated from a
particular viewpoint—one that, consciously and unconsciously, works to restrict and
frame the presented writings from the outset. Not only has a specific piece been
considered in how it operates with an overall topic or with other selections, but it
has also been reviewed to meet the standards and goals of an editor. Anthologies
become tangled webs in this way: the agenda of the assembler is at play along with
the agenda of each writer, layering on another viewpoint that shades the writings
because they are presented to us in a particular context. These collections employ a
host of organizations—some chronological, some a buffet of topics deemed note-
worthy, others centered on a particular topic, and even a few that present complex
combinations of these groupings. While many of the anthologies are argued to
select writings and portray them as transparently as possible, the values with which
this occurs are inherently embedded in not only the initial inclusion but also the
structure of the presentation. One of the most curious observations is that many of
the collections repeat a vast majority of the same authors. This leads to the recognition
that there is an underlying value system at play in these anthologies. While there is
no doubt that the collections are useful resources, the compilations must be
recognized as works in themselves and the views of the assemblers influence our
understanding of the subject.
Courses on theory in architecture often adopt a framework that is similar to the
organization of the anthologies. Discussions are usually structured around particular
issues that seem to cover a breadth of concerns or provide an historical overview.
Some classes are even designed to contrast theoretical works against each other,
comparing different architectural views or views from within and beyond the
profession. In general, however, these courses appear to attempt to summarize
positions or debate particular perspectives deemed noteworthy by the individual
teaching the class. Courses become surveys of the various thoughts that have been
expressed in the field over the years. Frequently this work is offered in the upper
levels, indicating somehow that it is not considered material for beginning designers.
Immersion in design school appears to be the prerequisite, yet preparation for the
discussion of theory as a subject does not seem to be included. Rarely do any of
these opportunities investigate how the subject is distinguished from other areas of
the field and why, or how different worldviews support works that are fundamentally
distinct. In addition, I am unaware of any course that has examined whether or not
something is considered to be a theory and what makes it such. I believe we are
capable of these discussions, but the concern for the agendas of particular theories
has mired our progress.

The approach for this work

So how might it be possible to explore the subject of theory in architecture?
Realizing that the approach to any investigation has a critical impact on the
8 Introduction

outcome, the design of this inquiry needs to be responsive to a wide range of

conceptions about the subject in order to capture all of its possibilities. This
exploration is intended to be open to various views and ideas while also able to get
at the heart of theory, aiming to develop an understanding that is flexible but
clearly focused to attain a solid grasp of the material. By seeking out an approach
that allows for unrestricted conceptions of the topic, a broad yet solid basis is able
to be established. Recognizing how the investigation forms the result is familiar to
designers as we frequently speak of how the product is shaped by the process. In
the case of this inquiry about theory, it is realized that different approaches for
understanding theory are possible, with each introducing different opportunities.
Because the subject of theory is quite encompassing and diverse, the approach in this
exploration is one that addresses this extensiveness—no matter how uncontrolled this
may seem—and provides a way to gain insight into this work as a body—no matter
how varied this is.
In addressing the breadth of theory, we are able to capitalize on the advantages
of viewing something at a distance, seeing it in its entirety. Scrutinizing a complete
entity gets at a kind of information that can otherwise remain unnoticed. If only
pieces of the subject of theory are investigated or if theory is a secondary concern
to a content that operates as the central emphasis of an examination, we can fail to
see the value of the entirety of the subject and its operations. This does not mean
that an exhaustive summary of everything claimed to be associated with theory is
sought, but instead the pursuit is to establish a perspective in which the subject is able
to be realized and understood as an identifiable body of work. And just because the
focus is broad does not infer that we will engage in only generalized discussions.
Precision and details can be embraced, yet these are seen from an overarching level.
By accepting that various types of theoretical works are sophisticated and complex
entities, we can begin to establish a sufficient grasp of an overall perception of
this body of work. Building an awareness of the nature of the entire collection,
however vague that collection may be, is even more critical. Without this kind of
discussion, the theoretical landscape remains difficult to recognize and negotiate.
Acknowledging and accepting the breadth of what is to be studied is able to be
accomplished through an approach that allows central ideas to be identified,
advanced and debated through the development of an outline that can continue to
be adapted and extended. Such a discussion becomes a starting point in the shaping
of an understanding of the subject of theory because this exploration not only
establishes a basis for comprehension but also works to remain flexible for further
progress. In this particular study, an understanding of theory is initiated through a
look at the various ideas offered from a number of different disciplines that describe
what theory is and what it is not. These ideas provide a way to shed new light on
the subject, reflecting on and informing an overall understanding of it. In turn, this
larger view will allow us to interpret these ideas from a more informed position.
We gain a better awareness of theory as these understandings contribute to both
the subject of theory and particular discussions, and each is able to be scrutinized
through the other. Simply stated, assembling ideas about theory provides a way to
Introduction 9

FIGURE 0.4 By looking at the entirety of the subject of theory rather than becoming
familiar with a few individual works, an overall awareness and general
understanding is achieved.

create a totality that can be examined as the whole by its individual elements, and
as its individual elements by the whole. The process is often referred to as herme-
neutic because of the way in which the understandings advance cyclically and with
influence from the contexts of the material. These understandings inform and
refine one another as they contribute to our growing familiarity with theory, both
in and beyond architecture. Realizing that we compile what we understand
through this type of acquisition introduces a situation in which our learning is seen
as always ongoing and benefits from acknowledging this process.
Employing an approach that strives for an overarching view enables us to
keep the focus on the subject of theory and not be swept into discussions of other
topics—including that of architecture. While it may seem strange to avoid
10 Introduction

conversations about design and the built environment, it is clear that making this
content a secondary concern enables us to develop a study that examines the nature
of the theory, exploring how it is defined, assimilated, and put into operation.
Specifically, it is the constructions and structures of theory that serve as the center
of attention for this exploration because these systems help explain the process and
its organization, addressing the development and direction of the activity. This
includes examining both internal and external elements and connections, shedding
light on what constitutes this work.
In order to build this broad understanding of the possible constructions and
structures of theory, we have to become aware of the perspectives in which we are
immersed. This move is a major one as the ability to acknowledge a position out-
side of one’s own breaks through the restraints of the single, private perception
from which each of us operates. Familiarity with these types of situations is often
experienced by designers, such as when a critic identifies an interpretation of a
design not intended by the designer. Those who are able to follow the comments
demonstrate they are able to shift viewpoints and relinquish their own subjective
authority, while those who have difficulty accepting an alternative position seem to
be less inclined to see the situation in another way and are reluctant to give up the
false security of their own position. Letting go of this limitation may be difficult
but is essential as what seems to be the safety of a personal perspective actually
shortchanges other possibilities and the opportunity for future development. Stepping
outside one’s own point of view and acknowledging others is often challenging but
is powerful as it breaks the bounds of a personal perspective. And while the
example of the studio is often a recognition of different readings within the same
view, at times it can signify the introduction of a radical change in one’s fundamental
ways of thinking. All these differences demand attention, even though our immersion
in our own views makes this difficult. Addressing the potential of recognizing these
differences is critical if we are to grasp the approach to this exploration. The work
of Donald Schön is informative in this situation as his examination of the way
professionals engage in their work gives us insight regarding how these views can
be identified and debated. Whether the structure is perceived by the user or not, all
perspectives of the world are able to be understood as systems that organize and
prioritize information. Attending to these structures enables a person to better
comprehend her own view as well as compare it to others or continue to develop
it. Schön refers to these structures as “frames” and speaks about them in his study
of the reflective nature of practice. He states:

When a practitioner becomes aware of his frames, he also becomes aware of

the possibility of alternative ways of framing the reality of his practice. He
takes note of the values and norms to which he has given priority, and those
he has given less importance, or left out of account altogether.9

While the reference to framing in this situation addresses a particular design problem,
the same awareness can be identified in overarching perspectives. The possibility of
Introduction 11

seeing more than one approach allows us to see options and identify a number of
alternative frames. Collectively, it is possible to see how these constitute a larger
composition of the subject of theory in architecture. By working to develop an
overview of this theoretical landscape, we are able to gain a better grasp of the
structures that are selected and employed.
“Perspectives,” “frames,” and other similar terms identify a critical concept that
describes the way in which a situation is approached or presented in order for it
then to be examined. For example, it is possible to see architecture as a scientific
endeavor, comprehending it as an object that can be studied and defined quanti-
tatively. This approach references the certain way in which the world is seen by the
viewer. It is also possible to see different frames within a specific situation—a
neighborhood is seen as a community in one perspective, but is perceived as a
piece of a larger urban fabric if examined from another viewpoint. While these terms
can be employed in many ways, the organizational structures that they indicate are
viable tools that work at many scales. The frames can operate at the level of a
worldview, defining foundational beliefs, as well as at a level that identifies differences
of type or kind, involving a variety of values. In this exploration, discussions may
clearly reference the role or operations of particular types of perspectives, yet many

FIGURE 0.5 The ability to see how others frame views enables us to benefit from these
perspectives, gaining the insight of different understandings.
12 Introduction

times a general understanding is applicable and these terms are used to indicate any
In our everyday activities, frameworks are always already in operation. Their
influence is often invisible to us or taken for granted, but they do affect one’s
understanding of any situation. These perspectives include seeing a subject such as
theory as shaped by the current conditions both within and beyond architecture,
which is a framework that all of us share and employ. Any theorizing and the resulting
theorems indicate the time and context in which they are created, connecting the
thinking to the particular era or setting. This perspective is not only identifiable but
logical as the presence of a framework is essential to how we see, which is always
from some place towards something. The phrase “point of view” captures this
clearly. And because theorizing is an activity that is engaged by a person in the present,
there are persistent arguments proposing that theory is a cultural discussion. There are
also claims that theory is political because preference for a specific view creates a
power structure within the discipline. However, what needs to be understood
is that these are not the only ways to read the subject. Framing theory in such
categories can be seen as biased or even reductive and misdirects our exploration.
Other potential perspectives are also accurate and compelling, and to only attend to
one perspective does not provide the broad overview of theory that is sought.
Frameworks need to be understood as options, and the greater our ability to identify
more possibilities improves the way in which we grasp and use theory.
Frameworks also provide a way to address how the entire subject operates.
While each of these perspectives has something to offer as its own system and as a
comparison with others, together they are able to establish a comprehension of a larger
operational development. Typically, only one framework is considered at a time, but
by understanding how these work not only at individual levels but as a collective
whole we gain a broader, more complex understanding. The ability to see a
breadth of operations opens the door to move beyond the point in which we are
concerned with the question of identifying one structure or system that offers a
complete and persuasive understanding of our situation. We are able to let go of
the debates between these perspectives and begin to recognize the richness of the
pluralities available. This position takes cues from the view of philosophy proposed
by American pragmatist Richard Rorty, who notes that attempts to select a pre-
ferred viewpoint are no longer beneficial to philosophy as these questions will
never be resolved. Rorty recognizes that it is not only impossible to succeed in
identifying one philosophical stance that rebuffs all others to complete satisfaction,
but also there is little to be gained from becoming involved in such debate. If we
apply this line of thinking to the subject of theory in architecture, we can under-
stand that trying to argue for one worldview over another, as well as one particular
perspective over another, derails activity that may be helpful for the profession. Yet
if we explain these frameworks as pieces of a broader network, they are able to be
examined and mined for the understandings and insights they offer, benefitting the
discipline through a variety of approaches. While Rorty speaks of philosophy
instead of theory in architecture, the parallels are clear, noting that “‘philosophy’
Introduction 13

can simply mean … ‘an attempt to see how things, in the broadest possible sense of
the term, hang together, in the broadest possible sense of the term.’”10
The idea of seeing how things “hang together” is beneficial for us—in a discipline
that engages many belief systems and perspectives, the ability to make associations
between these structures provides an understanding about an entirety that would
not be possible otherwise. It is as if we are constructing a web of knowledge about
the discipline that is advanced by various thinkers in various ways—not all are in
agreement, but all offer valued but diverse contributions. While any interpretation
of this entirety is influenced by our own beliefs and perspectives, recognizing these
contributions and respecting them assists with their use and provides a way to
move among them. In this way, seeing how the work in the subject of theory
“hangs together” establishes a solid basis that clarifies thought in architecture,
supporting coherent and informed activities in architecture.
Pursuing an understanding of how things “hang together” also introduces a way
in which the diversity of material is able to be examined on its own terms and
recognized for what each particular view brings to the discussion. Every work is
able to be seen as an entity that has its own coherence and consistency. The variety
of works within the subject of theory in architecture is able to be celebrated and
helps to expand our knowledge of the subject. The differences also enable many
perspectives to be heard, introducing not only toleration for other views but also
an awareness of the range of thought that is part of the subject.
While an approach that includes diversity does not mean that every viewpoint
should be interpreted as having relevance, it is possible to accept that all structures
considered to be part of the subject of theory in architecture are worthy of
review. Eliminating works prior to any evaluation would reject potential per-
spectives without due consideration. Many may fall short of what meets the
definition of a theoretical work, but all can and should be treated as holding

FIGURE 0.6 While they may not be in agreement with one another, different perspec-
tives may be understood to “hang together” to create a web of knowledge
that offers a greater understanding than what is provided with a single
14 Introduction

promise. We can learn of the wide spectrum of possible structures through the
work of Michel Foucault, whose investigations pushed these bounds. In his The
Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, he notes a humorously
inconsistent structure for a taxonomy of animals in his discussion of the ancient
Chinese encyclopedia, stating:

This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered,
as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought,
the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up
all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to
take the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to
disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same
and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which
it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor,
(b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs,
(h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k)
drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken
the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.’ In the won-
derment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the
things that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of
another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility
of thinking that.11

Foucault’s observation of this ancient system of classifying animals is seen to be

illogical from our current viewpoint, but it is critical to give all descriptions an
opportunity to be heard. If they are not, the range of possibilities has been shut
down before it is even considered. While perspectives like this ancient Chinese
taxonomy can be dismissed in today’s context without a great investment of time
or attention, granting serious evaluation to every viewpoint means that the search
for accurate descriptions is always held open rather than being artificially pre-
determined. Looking at a variety of frameworks or structures instead of employing
a specific one allows for the perspectives to be understood in their own light.
Every perspective may not be found to be accurate or worthwhile, but an impartial
hearing needs to be granted. Work that is identified and understood as theoretical
in nature may not always expand knowledge but can deepen it, adding further
understanding. This expansion can even be made through comprehending what is
not defined as theory or what lacks coherence.
If we examine a broad array of frameworks yet recognize that not all will aid in
developing an understanding of the subject of theory in architecture, it becomes
obvious that we need a way to be able to discern those perspectives that contribute
from those that do not. The introduction of evaluative measures needs to be
addressed. With a situation in which we seek to be as open as possible to a diversity
of views, our common denominator is an accuracy with what is being described.
The philosopher of science Karl Popper summarized this stance well:
Introduction 15

Theories are our own inventions, our own ideas; they are not forced upon us,
but are our self-made instruments of thought; this has been clearly seen by the
idealist. But some of these theories of ours can clash with reality; and when
they do, we know that there is a reality; that there is something to remind us
of the fact that our ideas may be mistaken.12

Our struggle is an ongoing search for constructions that are consistent with the
world, forwarding clarifications that are continually tested against situations and
events and eliminating those that are found to contain inconsistencies that conse-
quently do not offer any insight or explanation. While it becomes apparent that a
rejection of constructions stops our understanding of any situations and events, to
accept all of the proposed without question is to not grant them the opportunity to
be tested against the world, failing to take them seriously. We see this in designers
who openly discuss their activities: those individuals intent on achieving a quality
design try out ideas and approaches they somehow deem worthy of respect while
they do not subject their work to approaches that are considered to be unsound or
frivolous. Popper recognized this when he stated that we “do not take even our
own observations quite seriously, or accept them as scientific observations, until we
have repeated and tested them.”13 Constructions that are not examined for
inconsistencies are not accepted but dismissed because we fail to engage in them. In
this way, what is typically seen as an approach that is less receptive to various ideas
can be argued to be more open-minded than one that favors free expression
because the former treats new ideas or constructions earnestly while the latter
casually accepts these changes. Such nonchalant acceptance feigns open-mindedness
and fails to hear or deliberate about the argument. Balancing constructed views
with healthy skepticism challenges each of these perspectives for coherence with
the world.
This discussion of the inquiry and its attempt to see how all of these perspectives
“hang together” may be criticized for advancing what seems to be a relativistic
position because it allows for—even encourages—the acknowledgement of different
perspectives rather than identifying a particular stand. While most explorations
involve only one viewpoint, discussing many may be perplexing and invite con-
fusion. However, without the ability to see this variety, it is likely that the breadth
of the subject would not be seen. By pursuing an inquiry in which the messages of
others are heard and recognized for what they provide, an inclusive and rich
understanding is able to be achieved. This is especially important for those just
becoming familiar with the discipline as well as those wanting to continue to
advance their learning, as being open to and honestly engaging with different
perspectives develops a more enlightened viewpoint and increases clarity about
one’s own understandings. Seeing the entirety provides an ability for an individual
to see and establish a location in the larger field. Furthermore, such a dialogue
allows for the possibility of a range of belief systems for the subject of theory,
which is an expected condition. This is different from employing an empirical
approach, in which the perception of an objective world would present any
16 Introduction

alternative perspective as a mere opinion. Similarly, a perspective of critical theory

skews the understanding of the subject in response to selected values, which
negates other interpretations for the purpose of this agenda. In order to focus on
the wider possibilities, this endeavor openly pursues the plethora of alternatives to
explore how the discipline can be seen to “hang together.”
Beyond addressing the management of numerous perspectives, this inquiry may
also be criticized for approaching these differences in a way that appears unbiased
even though it is not. The idea of impartial endeavors is already recognized to be
impossible before they even begin. While any well-intended author attempts to
provide a balanced dialogue, I will be the first to acknowledge that the discussion
presented here is influenced by my own perspectives and cannot be otherwise.
Every attempt is made to produce an accurate description of the subject of theory
and its associated works as well as the relationships between them, yet everything
from the way the book is organized to the investigations of the work and selections
of the examples is affected by my personal views. It is essential that readers be
cognizant of this, ready to both challenge what is advanced as well as reflect on and
contrast ideas with their own views. Different perspectives will open different
understandings, and not being open to being aware of or challenging the perceptions
presented here will be a disservice to comprehending these contents.
There will always be differing assessments of any investigation, and no approach
can claim to be foolproof or perfect. Desired outcomes are never ensured. However,
what this approach provides is the possibility of gaining new understandings of
theory as a subject because the process aims to be open and flexible in order to
support this opportunity. Recognizing this overall situation introduces a healthy
perspective about the work and allows us to go forward with an awareness of these
parameters. We are also able to recognize that the particular results from this
exploration are not intended to be understood as the only view of the material but
do offer one viable option. We can already anticipate that there are numerous
insightful contributions to be made about a general notion of what is considered to
be the subject of theory, and the resulting understandings from this exploration are
only some among other possibilities. In addition, it should be noted that the variety
of sources or viewpoints examined will not be arbitrarily narrowed. While precision
and clarity is sought, reductive views are not.

An overview of the discussions in the book

Understanding the nature of this inquiry creates a basis that provides for the iden-
tification and exploration of a number of aspects addressing the subject of theory.
Reviewing historical and current definitions as well as how the subject operates
across and within disciplines is a first step in establishing a context for the work. Such
a perspective informs us about how our approach and thinking is similar to and
different from other fields. We also learn much by a close analysis of the subject,
becoming aware of issues such as the difference between the act of clarifying and its
resulting documentation. This untangles theorizing and its outcomes from the
Introduction 17

content. And while it is often presumed that the subjects of theory, history, design
and criticism in architecture are distinct, exploring these relationships shed light on
the ways in which they are similar and different as well as operate with one
another, developing a better grasp of the role that each fulfills.
Developing an all-encompassing view of the subject of theory is started by
drawing from the work developed by many thinkers in many fields of study, tapping
into well-informed understandings and establishing connections across disciplines.
Architecture does not need to invent a definition or description of theory unique
to its work—nor should it. By collecting and assessing perceptions of notable and
widely referenced individuals who range from philosophers of science to literary
critics, a working definition of what theory is and how it operates can be proposed,
examined and evaluated, regardless of the field to which it is applied. The resulting
understanding of the subject of theory in architecture is equally valid for the subject
of theory in other fields. As part of this larger context, the comprehension of the
overall nature of theory can be strengthened.
The subject of theory is also able to be better understood by examining its place
within a belief system, which is typically referred to as a paradigm or worldview and
defined as a coherent set of fundamental ideas about existence and knowledge. While
the presence of this kind of perspective is already recognized in this inquiry, worldviews
are also part of each theoretical endeavor. Such philosophical interests do not seem
directly connected to the subject of theory, but recognizing the relationship between
theorizing and the paradigm on which it is grounded is vital because the influence of
the beliefs cannot be underestimated. Theorizing assumes and depends on an under-
standing of the world because it works to further explanations of a situation. Different
paradigms engage and develop different theorizing. These variations are often the
reason for ongoing debates and disparities within the field. The ability to trace
between theoretical works and the paradigms on which they are based becomes
essential. Acknowledging the role of paradigms also brings awareness to the ability to
see a number of alternative ways of seeing reality and knowledge, which explains
the range of theoretical endeavors that are advanced. In addition, issues such as the
possibility of a grand theory or the subject of style are linked to these discussions,
recognizing how paradigms play a critical role in the overall landscape of theories.
Theoretical works are also able to be examined by looking at the composition of
elements that constitute this subject and their characteristics. A historical exploration
establishes a solid background for understanding the current use of the term
“theory,” identifying a number of possible definitions. Illuminating these meanings
helps to clarify the subject, and further distinction between theorizing and the resulting
theorems becomes critical. The subject can also be studied for its characteristics,
developing a profile that creates a way to assess whether or not a body of thought
can be understood as theoretical. Such a body of characteristics does not necessarily
form a strict consensus in regards to what is or is not a theory, but framing the
possibilities of theory can—and needs to—be discussed intelligently. To work
without such a basis or direction applies the term without engaging its meaning,
which is a non-theoretical approach to the subject.
18 Introduction

A final set of points on the activity of theorizing and the making of theorems
serves as a set of considerations that may aid those interested in engaging in this
work. These points highlight the contents and nature of this type of endeavor but
are not intended to be interpreted as a detailed set of instructions as each episode of
theorizing and the associated formation of theorems will have its own distinctive
development. Rather than following this list in a step-by-step fashion, the synopsis
operates as a series of reminders or suggestions and helps reframe activities to
introduce a fresh way of approaching work.
The book also includes a number of short essays about the views of various
theorists and designers. These essays serve as case studies that explore the writings
and conversations of these individuals, allowing these communications to illustrate
the discussions at hand. By identifying a number of aspects of theorizing, it is possible
to see how the subject of theory operates in an array of conditions and how this
work is differentiated from other endeavors. Original writings and interviews by
the theorists and designers are used as much as possible to stay close to the most
accurate expression of the ideas and beliefs rather than exploring the material
through additional sources, which introduces another layer of values and inter-
pretation. These discussions are only abbreviated explorations of particular issues
instead of a deep study of the entirety of any work as this allows the conversation
to keep its focus on the subject of theory rather than transforming into a collection
of theorems and other works.
In addition to these essays operating as demonstrations of the topics, the studies
help establish how an analysis of the subject of theory may be undertaken. Using
familiar and accessible pieces of selected writings to investigate many of the different
elements and characteristics of theorizing aims to aid in the development of a clear
evaluation process. For example, the essays include Robert Venturi, Denise Scott
Brown and Steven Izenour’s discussion of patterns in the built environment, Juhani
Pallasmaa’s explanation of how his theorizing began, and expressions of different
worldviews by individuals such as Glenn Murcutt and Dolores Hayden. These
essays provide rich illustrations of various aspects of theorizing and related points,
serving as an example of how to analyze these kinds of texts. While thinkers such
as Peter Eisenman and Manfredo Tafuri may be recognized as influential theorists,
not including any discussion of their works in this conversation is merely a reflection
of selecting a straightforward fit between the issues and the texts and limiting the
number of essays to keep the focus on a general conversation about the subject of
theory. It is hoped that the examinations included will serve as a beginning sampling
of this type of endeavor and will be continued, engaging in studies of additional
texts and increasing the analytical view of the subject of theory in architecture.
While the ideal scenario for these case studies would be a presentation of works
by a wide range of thinkers, the writings and interviews that are the most accessible
and commonly identified examples of various discussion points on theorizing are
offered by many well-known individuals in the discipline. The selections in this
book purposefully include some of these more familiar texts because of this familiarity
and the desire to provide a solid, introductory basis for discussing the subject of
Introduction 19

theory. Within this grouping, the diversity among the authors is limited. Yet
because of the fundamental nature of this endeavor, the inclusion of these recognized
arguments can be seen to be the most logical and helpful for beginning students of
theory. While I realize that this continues to promote certain designers and theorists
and reinforces particular dominant views that can also be argued to have narrowed
what may be a larger understanding of architecture, it is hoped that the result will
lead toward theoretical discussions and constructions that involve a broader range
of individuals and perspectives.
In summation, it is vital to recognize that this work is not advanced as a
single, definitive understanding of the subject of theory, aimed at providing a
complete description of the topic and devoid of values and influence. Instead it is
an introductory discussion and its formation and the resulting creation have been
shaped by my own values and perceptions, which are discussed explicitly when possible
but are often implicit and always a factor. While my view is explained further in the
next chapter, it is a constructed one that is formed through the consideration of many
views to develop a deep and rich understanding of the topics under study. My
position does not claim authority and seeks clarity through acknowledging and
assessing a multitude of views to construct a complex and profound perspective that
captures accuracy for this time. In regards to the subject of theory, I am especially
intrigued in how the many theoretical works that are part of the field operate in light
of one another. While there is no intention of creating an all-encompassing theore-
tical stance, becoming informed about how these may be in concert or discord with
one another discloses much about the thought processes that guide architecture.
It is hoped that this exploration serves those who are specifically interested in the
subject of theory in architecture as well as theoretical discussions in general. In
focusing beyond particular works and toward the topic in its broader under-
standing, it is possible to begin to comprehend various perspectives in a different
light and notice their commonalities as well as how their contrasts range from
significant to subtle. Perception of a presence of theoretical statements throughout
the discourse of architecture and the strength established by the bonds between a
theoretical work and a worldview is able to be better seen and appreciated. More
importantly, the power of the subject of theory begins to be realized and is able to
be translated to identify and construct theoretical works. It is in this way that I
hope this book serves to aid the advancement of architecture, as such foundational
assessments not only extend clarity but also possibly spur progress.

1 This analogy is borrowed from William Widdowson, whose seminars in the Master of
Science in Architecture Program at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio
between 1991 and 1993 greatly influenced the development of this book.
2 Kenneth Frampton, “Topaz Medallion Address at the ACSA Annual Meeting,” Journal
of Architectural Education 45 (July 1992): 195–6.
3 Rem Koolhaas, “Bigness, or the Problem of Large,” in S, M, L, XL, ed. Jennifer Sigler
(New York: Monacelli Press, 1995), 499.
20 Introduction

4 Sarah Whiting, “Going Public,” Hunch 6/7 (Rotterdam: Berlage Institute, 2003): 81.
5 David Leatherbarrow, Architecture Oriented Otherwise (New York: Princeton Architectural
Press, 2009), 65.
6 K. Michael Hays, “Introduction,” in Architecture Theory Since 1968, ed. K. Michael Hays
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1998), xii.
7 Kate Nesbitt, “Introduction,” in Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of
Architectural Theory 1965–1995, ed. Kate Nesbitt (New York: Princeton Architectural
Press, 1996), 13.
8 Hays, Architecture Theory Since 1968, x–xii.
9 Donald Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (New York:
Basic Books, 1983), 310.
10 Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays:1972–1980) (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1982), xvi.
11 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York:
Vintage Books, 1973), xv.
12 Frederick Suppe, “Alternatives to the Received View and Their Critics,” in The Structure
of Scientific Theories, ed. Frederick Suppe (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977), 169,
citing Karl Popper, Logik der Forschung (1935), 1959, English translation, 119.
13 Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Hutchinson & Co., 1968), 45.

We have to look no further than Thomas Kuhn’s use of the word “paradigm” in
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to recognize that ambiguous and inconsistent
uses of critical terms are common. While Kuhn’s view introduced revolutionary
insight to the activities of the discipline of science and helped to change the perception
of its operations, his application of the term “paradigm” is loose: at times it seems
to infer particular scientific models, yet it is also employed to indicate the general
state of the profession as well as other related inferences. Such approximation
is able to be tolerated—even overlooked—because it still provides a wealth of
material, but Kuhn himself attempted to clarify his terminology in a subsequent
postscript.1 The complexities of grappling with the inexact nature of a language
should not surprise or dismay any of us as this has been accepted as commonplace
since the early part of the twentieth century and even celebrated in certain
philosophies of recent decades.2 The opportunities for rich, deep understandings
and discussions of our concepts are only made possible by scrutinizing the nature,
limits and characteristics of such terms, helping to clarify the subjects and rescue
them from mystery and reduction.
Like Kuhn’s “paradigm,” the term “theory” is used in many ways. In architecture,
it is identified in everything from the basic rules of plumbing logistics to discussions
of the latest and most compelling direction for the entire profession. It can be
understood to be its own topic or part of any topic in the discipline. It is linked to
minor tasks or major ideas, speaks to both general and specific situations, and can
be broad or deep. The diversity of uses of the term does not introduce significant
complications, but it does not aid in its comprehension either. If we take the
22 Defining theory

opportunity to study the subject and the variety of circumstances in which it is

found, we can begin to shed light on its position, use and power in architecture.
To define “theory” and describe how we find it, it is possible to look widely at the
field and the historical events that helped shape our current understandings of the
topic and its associations. By better understanding this subject and its many uses and
contexts, it follows that our employment of the term and everything it encompasses
will be clearer, stronger and more easily communicated. While we will never
achieve complete agreement and this exploration has no intention of pursuing the
establishment of a strict consensus regarding the term “theory,” framing its possibi-
lities can—and needs to—be discussed intelligently. To proceed otherwise would
be to dismiss the nature of theorizing while attending to the subject, which creates
a curious situation for this topic.
Theory has been a subject that various thinkers have analyzed throughout many
disciplines. Probably the most notable and widely referenced is Kuhn, who discussed
many ideas about the general nature of the topic. His work removes distinctions
between theorizing in the sciences and other disciplines, supporting a universal
view of the subject. Another philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper, com-
plemented Kuhn’s work by advancing positions such as the “theory of falsification”
wherein theorems cannot be proven to be true, methodologically speaking, but are
provisionally held as true until they are proven false. Literary theorists such as
Hilary Putnam and Paisley Livingston also add significant observations about
theory. From these thinkers and others, many aspects of the subject of theory have
been widely, if somewhat loosely, discussed. By assimilating these observations, it is
possible to construct a description of theory, noting its elements and characteristics
in order to begin to frame a clearer, more definitive understanding of the subject.
This type of comprehension creates a basis for further discussion, use and analysis.
Taking work from a wide range of fields helps to establish a broad view of theory that
applies to architecture as well as to other disciplines.

The history of the term

In his book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Raymond Williams traces
the everyday understandings of the term “theory” over the last centuries.3 In the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, theory indicated a sight. The usage of the
word began to transform at the beginning of the seventeenth century, suggesting a
speculation or projected idea. While this latter way of understanding the word
connects closely to the first as a spectacle is something that was seen, this evolution
begins to introduce a link to an understanding about what is being perceived.
Around the same time that the second definition appeared, a third definition
advances the term as a scheme of ideas, shifting the emphasis from vision to
thought. As a scheme of ideas, Williams notes that theory became commonly
recognized as a doctrine or ideology. By the middle of the seventeenth century, a
fourth meaning appeared, advancing the term as an explanatory scheme or a systematic
explanation of practice.
Defining theory 23

The historical development of the term advances the definition from a simple
sighting to making sense of what is viewed. Theory originally indicated a vision or
spectacle that was nothing more than watching something or someone. No associa-
tions or conjectures were made. Over time, however, we can see that theory starts
to imply meanings and ideas. At the point in which theory begins to reference a
speculation, it suggests more than a superficial observation and involves thought or
reasoning about what is seen. Once this association was made, the term “theory”
becomes connected to how things are or may be explained. This transition
becomes critical to our current understanding and use of the term.
The link between theory and sight supports our use of words or phrases such as
“perspective,” “view” or “way of seeing.” These terms reach beyond references to
a simple visual acceptance and tap into the idea of comprehension. We accept
statements such as “to see” or “to perceive” as understanding either visually or
intellectually, acknowledging both a sighting and a way of grasping an idea.
Accepting the flexibility of our everyday language instead of confining it to specific
meanings is a relatively simple and common connection to make, but helpful to
identify because it brings meaning to these associations. The history of the evolution
of physical and conceptual comprehensions deepens our understanding of these
references and brings awareness to how fundamental the concept of theory is to
our current way of thinking.
In addition to the multiple meanings of the term that arise throughout its history,
modern usage of theory commonly references both doctrines and explanatory
schemes, sometimes interchangeably. These cultural practices of the word have an
important distinction but are not always seen as different. Theory as a doctrine or
ideology speaks about how things should be, providing an exemplary system or set
of principles. In this way, theory can be understood as a model or a system that is
held as an ideal. On the other hand, theory as an explanatory scheme describes
things as they are found in the world. This situation views theory as an account of
reality that seeks to capture the tangible conditions. While the difference between
doctrines and explanatory schemes may seem perplexing, it is clearer to see how
this distinction operates when it is identified in various disciplines. For example, the
natural sciences typically understand that what is considered to be a perfect condition
is clearly distinct from what is the usual or actual state. Doctrines strive to capture
how things should be ideally. This is separate from how a system exists in the real
world. The ideology is recognized to be different from an explanation of practice
as one is a perfect model and the other accounts for all the inaccuracies encountered
in reality. The behavioral sciences, on the other hand, often blur this boundary.
The definition of the things themselves operates as how they are envisioned. How
a situation should be and how it is defined is one and the same as the doctrine
becomes the framework for understanding. For a discipline such as architecture, the
distinction comes into play when we recognize how the term is viewed and being
discussed—sometimes it is used as a doctrine, and sometimes it references an
explanatory scheme. In this way, awareness of the distinction tells us a great deal
about the subject of theory in architecture in each particular discussion.
24 Defining theory

While the first meanings of the term have long since disappeared and the latter
definitions describe its current everyday usage, the reference to the perception of
ideas is recognized as a fundamental element of theory. It is common to overhear
phrases such as “in theory, this should work,” indicating that there is an ideal state or
situation that is possible to achieve, yet it might not match what will happen. Yet it
is also typical to discuss an explanation of something as a theory. It is common to
hear phrases such as “I have a theory about that,” describing a view of something
that explains a condition or event. In these situations, regardless of whether they are
describing the ideal or the actual, theory is still engaged with the idea of seeing, even
if this perception is an abstract one. Its use as an everyday term can be loose, but it
has an essential place in discussions of the way in which we perceive our world.
The differences between these understandings of the term “theory” introduce a
relationship with practice, which is an underlying complexity that arises when we
recognize that the term is connected to a scheme or explanation. While theory is
generally associated with something that is proposed, either in an ideal situation or
the world, practice indicates action. The pairing of these two does not necessarily
imply an opposition, but they are often treated as such. Distinctions can be traced
back to Aristotle, who identified three types of action: theoria as the activity of
contemplating aimed at establishing knowledge, poiesis as poetic or artful making
with the goal of producing, and praxis as a mode of making in which theory
informs the work and leads to action. While these definitions differentiate theory
from action, the action does not operate without the support of theory. In nine-
teenth-century Germany, praxis was defined as practice and theory informed by
one another, distinguished from these being disengaged from one another.4
Throughout history, connections between theory and practice have been strong.
Beyond these historical and cultural understandings of the term, theory can be
defined in general as a way of seeing, understanding, explaining, or clarifying.
More succinctly, we can understand theory as “a system of assumptions, accepted
principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain
the nature or behavior of a specified set of phenomena,”5 or to aid in deep
understanding. As an explanation, theory always employs a particular view or per-
spective of something. Seeing or explaining implicitly requires that an individual
takes a position from which an observation is made, establishing the perspective
from an identifiable point or stance. Because not all observations and explanations
look at the same things from the same place, different theories have different con-
tent and forms. These differences create a wide assortment of theories.
While there may be a variety of theories, they connect to one another as ways of
seeing and explaining may employ similar perspectives. Clarifications begin to build
on and work from one another. The literary critic Paisley Livingston addresses
these connections and furthers the description of theory in Literary Knowledge:
Humanistic Inquiry and the Philosophy of Science:

My own hypothesis is that, at the present stage, the most that a theory should
attempt is a clarification of the topics and lines of inquiry available to critical
Defining theory 25

research, a clarification that, if it rejects some types of work as ill-founded and

based on spurious goals and assumptions, actively encourages and contributes
to other lines of inquiry.6

Specifically, we can understand a “line of inquiry” to be a particular way of

approaching or seeing, identifying one view of a situation rather than all views.
The cleverness of Livingston’s definition identifies limits and reasonable goals for
our understanding of theory rather than laying out its possibilities. This positions
theories to be clarifications that are only sensible when their ways of seeing are
understood and they are able to build on these. The disclaimer that theories don’t
help clarify in every situation brings attention to the realization that an explanation
contributes to one way of seeing rather than all ways of seeing, and advances
knowledge in this perspective. With this understanding, theory works to build
knowledge. Whether literary, architectural or of another discipline, theories are
clarifications and work to establish what it is we know.
Livingston’s recognition of the relationships that exist between clarifications
underscores the idea that theories have different content and forms because there
are different ways of seeing and explaining. We engage in many efforts to explain
many things, but not all explanations are universally applicable to every examination.
Even though there is a wide array of inquiries, Livingston notes that a theory only
needs to engage a single one. Investigations involve a way of seeing, and a theory
advances this specific approach. The American philosopher Hilary Putnam notes
that “no theory or picture is complete for all purposes,” recognizing that clarifica-
tions function to address certain—but not all—concerns or lines of investigations.7
Many theories, or clarifications, are understood to be able to exist simultaneously,
with each contributing to a view. The variety of views available supports the need
for many different clarifications, each furthering that particular line of thinking.
The connections between the act of seeing and the evolution of the term of theory
provide a strong basis for this conversation. Beginning with historical meanings of the
term “theory” and continuing to Putnam’s correlation of the terms “theory” and

FIGURE 1.1 By recognizing that there are different lines of inquiry or ways of seeing, any
new lines that are developed can be seen to have similarities to existing lines
of inquiry and contribute to or work with these.
26 Defining theory

“picture,” the idea of seeing operates as a useful description for theory. While dis-
cussions of seeing do not necessarily indicate a physical sighting, it is possible that
anything beyond the taking in of a view or scene may not be inferred. Yet because
definitions of terms such as seeing and perceiving include realization and comprehen-
sion, the possibility of understanding something in the abstract is introduced. A sense
of vision is linked to the activity of the mind, perhaps because sight is an original
meaning for theory, or because both of these activities connect a person to the world,
or because these operations usually happen simultaneously, reinforcing one another.
Regardless of the reason, the act of seeing has a critical role in any discussion of theory.
Theory has a long history of being broadly understood as a way of seeing, yet
we are also able to continue to refine it and note a more precise interpretation of the
term by describing theory as involved with the activity of clarifying or explaining.
Clarifying happens within inquiries, extending specific lines of thought rather than
attempting to be generally and comprehensively applicable to all developments.
These explanations build knowledge through perspectives, extending and deepening
understandings. By accepting this description of theory for this exploration, we can
begin to focus on the role and abilities of this subject while keeping in mind its
close connection to knowledge and its various forms.

Theorizing and theorems

Defining theory as a contribution to a line of inquiry still leaves ambiguity between
the act of clarifying and the clarification resultant. As part of the everyday vagueness
of a common term, theory commonly insinuates both an operation and its results.
This difference is explicated by the Greek terms used to distinguish these activities.
Theoria is defined as “the activity of contemplating, of inquiry and of seeking to
understand; theorizing,” while the theorema is defined as “what emerges from this
activity, an understanding of a ‘going-on’; a theorem.”8 The general use of the term
“theory” typically masks this difference, but taking the opportunity to address the
distinction allows for more precise descriptions of what is referenced. While theory
will always be used to indicate either, introducing more exact terms allows for
clearer communications regarding the subject.
Theorizing is defined as “an engagement to abate mystery rather than achieve
definitive understanding.”9 As an event that seeks clarification, theorizing can be
described as an activity that works to contribute to greater awareness, combating
what is implicit and inferred. It is an engagement that generates from and is influenced
by our histories and contexts because what is known and has been experienced serves
as a basis for elucidation. A person embedded in a web of relationships is connected
to everything through time and context and has the potential to explain what she
sees or encounters through such an understanding. This may advance quantitative
knowledge in empirical settings, views that are guided by particular values, or a
complex mixture of all of these. Her perspective on the situation she is in affects
the clarifying that occurs. In this way, abating mystery depends upon and engages
myriad connections. To look at it from another way, detachment from the
Defining theory 27

world does not support theorizing because any attempt to explain is necessarily
linked to the environment it strives to describe.
Theorems consist of arrested understandings. They are no longer engaged in a
dialogue of clarification but operate as placeholders, documenting a current state of
elucidation. This does not mean that the subject of the clarifying is never to be
wrestled with again but simply expresses one stage of an ongoing process. While
theorizing may happen quickly or over a long period of time, transferring the work
to a theorem captures this work and enables it to be investigated, expanded or
revised. In this sense, theorems are always temporary, whether they stand for a
short time or over centuries, and are able to be further developed, modified, or
even reversed. Theorems are also always partial and approximate because any
attempt to record theorizing is not complete and contains inevitable flaws. Because
theorems are documented after the activity of theorizing, the records can be neatened
and organized, avoiding the confusion that sometimes exists in the midst of
attempts to clarify. Yet even with this opportunity to order the work, by no means
does this indicate that an all-inclusive and perfect theorem is sought and believed
to be achievable. Completeness and faultlessness are recognized as idealistic absolutes.
Rather, theorems gain the greatest degree of accuracy possible. Theorems note a
place and time in the continual attempt to clarify—they are markers for our own
location of our engagement in the world.

FIGURE 1.2 Theorizing and theorems are distinct from one another—theorizing is an
ongoing activity of clarifying while theorems are the documentations of this
28 Defining theory

Theorizing and theorems are not to be understood as occurring in a strict order.

Theorems mark points in an engagement. They are preceded by the theorizing
from which they emerge and succeeded by the theorizing that works from them,
improving what is documented. As a continuous cycle that has no beginning or
ending, entering the process can occur in myriad ways. It is also not necessarily a
singular endeavor—theorizing may branch out and result in different theorems,
which in turn can encourage more than one theorizing activity. The shift between
theorizing and theorems has great flexibility and one can encourage the other
instantaneously or hold its place over a long duration, supporting the entire
Theorizing and theorems are not to be confused with expressions in built form.
While a physical work may be created with the guidance of a theorem, there is no
direct correspondence between this thought and a manifestation. Built form does
not always generate from work that has originated with theoretical discussions.
Design may begin by employing standardized practices, emulating styles or borrowing
ideas from an array of existing theorems, all of which acknowledge a distinction
between the activities of theorizing and the process of design. Additionally, there is
a considerable amount of work in the subject of theory that will always remain
within the realm of theorizing and theorems, never intended for the specific purpose
of producing design. For example, discussions that range from historical investiga-
tions to visionary explorations engage in theoretical explorations to explain past
events or propose possibilities. These dialogues may reference form, but the
making of a physical piece is not a necessary part of either the activity of theorizing
or the documentation of theorems. While theorizing and theorems are seen to
constitute the subject of theory, manifestations that develop from them introduce a
related yet different aspect of the discipline. The intriguing and rich relationship
between theoretical work and the design of built form is a critical one and identifying
the distinction helps communicate the nature of the connections.
The term “theory” will remain prevalent in everyday discussions, yet it is possible
to introduce a greater refinement to reflect more precise meaning. Theorizing
is able to be distinguished from theorems, and there is a substantial benefit in
being able to make clear whether the term indicates an ongoing activity or the
documentation of a particular position. From this work we can see that it is also
possible to quickly review the term’s use in other instances in order to determine
whether the intention indicates theorizing or a recording of this activity, gaining
more enlightened readings. Being able to get at this more accurate meaning aids
our exploration of the subject; however, even with this specificity we still remain
at a broad level in understanding theory as a subject. From this distinction, we can
further investigate what makes up the theorizing and the resulting theorems.

The elements of theorizing

Our understanding of the subject of theory deepens when we turn our attention to
the individual pieces that comprise theory or look at ways in which we can begin
Defining theory 29

to distinguish specific aspects. Recognizing differences between ideologies and

explanatory schemes or delineating the activity of theorizing from its documenta-
tion in a theorem has already begun this work, and this can be continued by
identifying and analyzing the particular elements that comprise the subject of
theory. This allows us to get at the possible assemblies as well as their operations.
Engaging in a more thorough exploration of the composition of the subject also
illuminates the connections and characteristics that are integral to the components
of theory.
By beginning an examination of the subject through its constitutive pieces, one of
the most salient places to start is with the work of English philosopher Michael
Oakeshott. Oakeshott noted that theorizing consists of four basic parts: (1) a “going-
on” attended to; (2) a reflective consciousness or theorist; (3) an inquiry designed
by the theorist, or theorizing; and (4) the emergent, or theorem.10 The “going-on”
is a specific observation. This observation may be about physical conditions or
more abstract ideas, universal or limited by bounds such as culture or regions, or
involve scales that range from large to small. In architecture, such an observation may
include everything from the identification of a social issue to a physical situation, such
as the recognition of the way people interact with one another and their environ-
ment or the typical wind conditions for a region or season. What defines such an
observation as a “going-on” is that a pattern in a state of affairs or events or a
problem with this pattern is now detected—no other individual has seen this
situation in this specific way. Because this observation is made, it triggers an
awareness of the situation. Simply stated, a “going-on” is a pattern or a problem in
a pattern that is now apparent to a person, yet its observation helps her to see
something more clearly, causing one to take notice of what had been formerly
If we take a deeper look at these four basic parts of theorizing, a better
comprehension of each is realized. The four parts are further described as

FIGURE 1.3 The four basic elements of theorizing include an observation of a pattern or
a problem in a pattern, an individual who identifies this pattern or problem
and reflects on it, theorizing or clarifying, and a resulting theorem that
documents the theorizing.
30 Defining theory

An observation of a pattern or interruption in a pattern

The observation that begins theorizing is the recognition of patterns, constancies
and invariances,11 or the perception of anomalies or “felt difficulties” in an other-
wise expected situation or account.12 Both of these explanations contain the idea
that what we see are consistencies in things and events, identifying what appears to
be a perpetual, maintained existence or how this continuous system has changed or
been disturbed. Noting an observation of patterns or “felt difficulties” within the
expected patterns is an explanation or clarification because this works to make
sense of our experiences. The world is seen as comprised of established or expected
systems or situations that can be identified either because of their endurance or
because they change or are interrupted. Observations of patterns include every-
thing from the tides to consumer spending habits; in architecture, constancies such
as the properties of materials are relied on without question in everyday practice.
Interruptions of what is consistent may be seen in everything from the shifting of
geographic plates to changes in government confidence and support. Well-known
instances of breaks in patterns in architecture include issues such as the introduction
of new materials or technologies. Both the patterns and the “felt difficulties” work
in concert to establish and give identification to each other. Without patterns, “felt
difficulties” would be unrecognizable because there would be no “typical” to see what
is “atypical”; without “felt difficulties,” patterns would not be a vital way of making
sense of the world because there would be nothing against which to judge

FIGURE 1.4 Different patterns or problems in patterns can be identified.

Defining theory 31


Theorizing starts with an observation of a pattern or problem with a pattern
because this type of viewing frames things in a new light and brings a clarity to
a situation. By identifying a pattern or a problem within it, we are able to
understand the issues in a way that was previously unrecognized. For Robert
Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, their research on the com-
mercial strip focused their observations on this uniquely American context.
Using Las Vegas as a case study, they were able to address the elements of the
strip to examine symbolism in architectural form.
The study makes several critical observations, including the disjuncture
between architecture and vernacular culture that is discussed in a section titled
“Billboards are Almost All Right.”13 Fine art, as architecture, and crude or
commercial art are seen to never have been successfully synthesized. Also noted is
the difference between enclosed and open spaces and the symbol in architecture.
Another key observation is the sign. They state:

The sign is more important than the architecture. This is reflected in the
proprietor’s budget. The sign at the front is a vulgar extravaganza, the
building at the back, a modest necessity. The architecture is what is cheap.
Sometimes the building is the sign: The duck store in the shape of a duck …
is sculptural symbol and architectural shelter. Contradiction between out-
side and inside was common in architecture before the Modern movement,
particularly in urban and monumental architecture … The false fronts of
Western stores did the same thing: they were bigger and taller than the
interiors they fronted to communicate the store’s importance and to
enhance the quality and unity of the street. But false fronts are of the order
and scale of Main Street. From the desert town on the highway to the West
of today, we can learn new and vivid lessons about an impure architecture
of communication. The little low buildings, gray-brown like the desert,
separate and recede from the street that is now the highway, their false
fronts disengaged and turned perpendicular to the highway as big, high
signs. If you take the signs away, there is no place. The desert town is
intensified communication along the highway.14

Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour understand architecture to be a language of

form; more specifically, their observations propose it as a pattern that identifies
architecture as either a sign that is a billboard or a sign that is a building. This
way of seeing architecture offers an interpretation of the totality of built form,
ranging from high art to everyday commercialism. Their view does not consider
only one part of history nor only certain types of buildings. The ability to
32 Defining theory

perceive architecture in this light provides a simple and understandable explanation

of the built environment.
The strength of this pattern is recognized in the second preface of the
revised edition as Denise Scott Brown notes the influence of the understanding.
She states:

We sense that the ideas initiated in Learning from Las Vegas are receiving
much greater acceptance than when they were first published … what we
learned from Las Vegas … is to reassess the role of symbolism in architecture,
and, in the process, to learn a new receptivity to the tastes and values of
other people and a new modesty in our designs and in our perception of
our role as architects in society.15

The work of VSBA Architects and Planners can be seen to demonstrate this
approach to design. Over the past half-century and from their website to their
projects, the exploration of architecture as a billboard is engaged and taps into
a language of popular culture. The observation of architecture that resulted in
understanding it to operate as either an everyday commercial advertisement or
a shape can be identified in any review of the built environment. Venturi, Scott
Brown and Izenour argue the strength of seeing architecture as a billboard,
which can be seen as a key part of the firm’s endeavors. From the Vanna Venturi
House that was designed in 1962 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to projects such
as the winning entry for an invited competition for the Sainsbury Wing of the
National Gallery in London, England in 1991, the firm has explored the role of
the built environment as part of the popular and commercial language. More
specifically, seeing architecture as a sign can be seen to have served as a
worthwhile and rich guide to design thinking and working.

Do all observations of “going-ons” result in theorizing? It is possible to understand

that these patterns or their interruptions can be identified but no investigation
occurs. We may see constancies or problems within them every day but not
respond to or question them because nothing triggers curiosity about the situations. It
may also be that it takes many years for these observations to create an impact that
leads to theorizing. Yet we can see that observations alone do not support the
activity of theorizing—the other elements are essential ingredients for the work.


Observations that start the process of theorizing are often the results of extended
periods of reflection, watching and thinking about what is at hand. Many of
these occurrences can be seen to begin implicitly and move to a more explicit
state of awareness simply through one’s association with them over time—the
Defining theory 33

observer becomes familiar enough with the issue to be able to question it,
seeing it in new or different ways. Patterns or problems within them reach a
point in which they are able to be identified and defined. Architectural theorist
Juhani Pallasmaa explains such a process in The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and
the Senses, noting how his awareness of the role of touch in the built environ-
ment developed from reflections on what he believed to be a critical part of
architecture.16 He explains:

In 1995 the editors at Academy Editions, London invited me to write a

volume of their ‘Polemics’ series, in the form of an extended essay of 32
pages on a subject matter that I found pertinent in the architectural discourse
of the time. The result—my little book The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture
and the Senses—was published in the following year.17

While touch and its influence in design was not what he viewed to be a main-
stream conversation at the time, he nevertheless began to explore and document
his thoughts on the subject. Unexpectedly, the writings found a large audience.
Pallasmaa remarks on the succeeding series of events, stating, “Somewhat to
my surprise, the humble book was received very positively, and it became a
required reading on architectural theory courses in numerous schools of archi-
tecture around the world.”18 The clarification resonated with others, providing
a different and valued way of seeing design.
Pallasmaa’s account of the evolution of his work is informative. What began
as a kind of offhand opinion about the dominance of sight and the absence of
touch in the formation of the built environment escalated into an analysis of
the situation that was meaningful to many. Describing how his understanding
grew from his observations, Pallasmaa notes:

The polemical essay was initially based on personal experiences, views and
speculations. I had become increasingly concerned about the bias towards
vision, and the suppression of the other senses, in the way architecture was
conceived, taught and critiqued, and about the consequent disappearance
of sensory and sensual qualities from the arts and architecture.19

His recognition of the problem with the pattern of how architecture is approached
leads to its ability to be addressed in a different way, helping introduce a new
clarification of the built environment. A new pattern of acknowledging the role
of the sense of touch in design began to be developed.
It is necessary to remember that observations about an appreciation of the
influence of the senses is not new, and Pallasmaa does not view them to be—
he references the works of a number of scholars, from anthropologist Ashley
Montagu to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, both of whom discuss the role
of the body in comprehending the world. These works serve as a foundation for
34 Defining theory

Pallasmaa’s investigation, grounding the endeavor in research to lend support

to his position. After noting Montagu’s recognition of the skin as a primary
organ and touch as the chief sense, Pallasmaa echoes this understanding with
his own clarification, stating:

Touch is the sensory mode that integrates our experience of the world with
that of ourselves. Even visual perceptions are fused and integrated into the
haptic continuum of the self; my body remembers who I am and where I
am located in the world. My body is truly the navel of my world, not in the
sense of the viewing point of the central perspective, but as the very locus
of reference, memory, imagination and integration.20

Although these reflections may have started slowly and were expected to
remain relatively unnoticed, a well-defined view of the situation is developed.
Pallasmaa is able to clearly express the role of touch in the built environment,
substantiated with the help of existing research. His beginning observa-
tions are developed through explorations of related works, establishing his
own view.

A theorist
The second element that is recognized to be part of this activity of theorizing is an
individual who observes the situation, identifying the constancy or its variation.
The observation—whether it is the recognition of a pattern or its interruption—is
not entirely separate from the theorist since it is an individual who comprehends
the issue as something to be addressed. Theorizing depends on a conscious being
because patterns and “felt difficulties” do not exist in nature. For example, patterns
about the attractions of masses are described as gravitational forces, while irregular
shifts in the temperatures on the earth are observed to be situations that introduce
different conditions and are explained as an ice age or the effects of global warming.
However, these situations are not constancies or interruptions without an inter-
preter to see them in that light—they are things and happenings that simply exist,
becoming patterns or problems through particular observations. Only a reflective
consciousness has the ability to perceive them as connected, seeing a pattern or
problem to be explained.
The idea that an individual is an essential piece of this equation may also lead to
the question of what particular attributes a person might be able to bring to theo-
rizing. While someone who comprehends the “going-on” is the basic requirement,
this can be advanced and encouraged by a mindset that is prepared or attuned to
identify these. It is not difficult to imagine a curious person seeking explanations or
someone interested in understanding the rationale of a thing or event. While
anyone is able to theorize, it is expected that there may be some who are more
inclined than others to become absorbed in this work.
Defining theory 35

The activity of theorizing

Theorizing is the third piece of this activity and is the endeavor that advances from
the initial observation by a reflective individual. Understanding that theorizing
generates from these first two elements, the succeeding work of an individual
reflecting on an observation involves a careful study of the pattern or problem in
the pattern. This directly connects the observed issue to the theorizing, making the
relationship between the initial observation and the theorizing a necessary one.21
Once the beginning observation sets the stage for inquiry, the activity of clarifying
or explaining is able to be engaged and pursued over short or extended times and
in a wide variety of ways. Consideration of the pattern or the problem with the
pattern is engaged. While the study can take many forms, an uninterrupted con-
nection from the basic acknowledgement of the “going-on” to theorizing about
the issue is established and provides clear direction for the work. It is simply illo-
gical for us to think that it is possible for theorizing to be started from some
unrelated observation.

A resulting theorem
A theorem that emerges from this work is the fourth and final element of theorizing.
Theorems, as previously discussed, are the temporary arrested understandings of the
theorizing. These records document the activities of clarifying, capturing the work
at certain points in time. Theorems may be communicated in many forms,
including notes, texts, or even sketched descriptions, as these signify some type of
conclusion about the observations. While a theorem marks a stage in the ongoing
theorizing process and is partial and approximate, it can be understood as an outcome
of theorizing because it is a piece that describes—at least momentarily—the summary
of a person’s observation and theorizing. Theorems are often revisited and revised,
although they are also able to stand for decades or longer. Theorems are not to be
understood as a conclusive ending for any theorizing because the activity of clarifying,
once started, will always be open for review.
Is it possible for theorizing to occur without a resulting theorem? The activity of
theorizing may occur over a short period of time, or it may be extended over
years. While we can imagine that a summarizing position may not always be pro-
duced, we also realize that the process of theorizing is always ongoing and it is
simply understood that developing a temporary conclusive idea or documenting
this thought has yet to occur. The possibility of this work is continually open.
However, our practices demonstrate that events of theorizing are captured and
recorded in some manner, whether this be some tentative understandings or complete
These elements of theorizing balance between the abstract and the concrete as
the intangible activities of observing and clarifying are offset with the physical
presence of an individual and some form of documentation. It is interesting to
note that the abstract elements both stay close to the ability to see, identifying
36 Defining theory

the importance of viewing for theorizing. Observation and the activity of theo-
rizing are distinct in that the first references a time at which a person notices
something while the second references the attempt to explain or clarify it, but
both of these activities depend on the perception of an individual. In addition, all
four elements show theorizing to be an endeavor that does not demand much
more than an observant, reflective person who is able to record her work in
some way.

Characteristics of theorizing
While these four elements of theorizing seem straightforward and simple, a deeper
examination shows that these elements involve a number of characteristics that
distinguish this activity from other similar types of engagement. These qualities
work across the disciplines and provide attributes that differentiate theorizing in not
only its identification but also its construction. Collected from literary theorists to
philosophers of science, these characteristics are assembled in no particular order. In
addition, they are not to be considered a definitive list—as any theorem, this clari-
fication of theorizing presents these characteristics as a work-in-progress, needing
review, critique and alterations. We are able to use this list of characteristics as a
starting point for understanding theorizing, but we know that the inquiry will
always remain open to future alterations.
A summary of the characteristics of theorizing are able to be summarized succinctly,
noting that it works within a paradigm, is general, abstract and does not depend on
particular language formation. Theorizing aims for truth or accuracy with the
world and is able to be tested or reasoned in some way. It is seen to operate within
a larger worldview, being able to be associated with similar investigations but
offering something new. Theorizing also never ceases—theorems may mark stop-
ping points, but the clarifying is able to continue. A closer look at each of these
characteristics provides a more thorough understanding of the nature of theorizing,
and are further described as follows.

Theorizing operates within a paradigm

In Handbook of Qualitative Research, paradigms are defined by Yvonna Lincoln and
Egon Guba as “the basic belief system or worldview that guides the investigator, not
only in choices of method but in ontologically and epistemologically fundamental
ways.”22 While paradigms will be discussed in the following chapter, it is critical to
understand that a paradigm is a set of the most fundamental assumptions from
which we operate, providing a basis for all thought and work. These assumptions
include what we believe reality to be (ontology), what can be known about
this (epistemology) and how we know it (methodology). These are obviously
profound philosophical questions that have perplexed and entertained the human
race for centuries. Acknowledging that there are different beliefs about these issues
Defining theory 37

supports the understanding that various instances of theorizing are based on and
operate from various worldviews. While activities of theorizing differ because
they are grounded on different paradigms, it is impossible to work without some
belief system. This perception reflects the previously noted basic definition of
theory offered by Paisley Livingston, who alludes to the different paradigms that
serve as foundations for theorizing when he states that theorizing is “a clarifica-
tion that, if it rejects some types of work as ill-founded and based on spurious
goals and assumptions, actively encourages and contributes to other lines of
inquiry.”23 In other words, these “lines of inquiry” may be identified as different
paradigms or different investigations within paradigms, developing distinct
activities of clarifying. This definition of paradigm provides a larger framework
for a discussion of the subject of theory. Theorizing and theorems are seen to
be classifiable because they have identifiable ontological, epistemological and
methodological positions.

Theorizing is general
Although theorizing generates from a particular observation or series of observa-
tions, the clarification that develops from this generation consists of general laws or
law-like generalizations.24 This recognizes that the activity of clarifying is capable
of going beyond the confines of a specific event or situation from which it is
produced in order to present a larger understanding of a subject in general, making
connections between similar conditions. For example, theorizing about the effect
of light on the growth of a plant can be seen in one situation, then noticed as
something that occurs in similar conditions, becoming an observation that stands
across all such circumstances. In architecture, it is possible to think of an issue such
as the relationship between porches and the creation of communities—this may be
recognized in one place before seeing it elsewhere and becoming a realization that
operates on a broad scale. Reflecting at this general level is the beginning of
theorizing, distinct from seeing an issue that only happens at a local level. While
the specific level can still be addressed, if the work only addresses this particular
instance it solves a problem rather than introduces a larger view from which
theorizing can occur. Theorizing attends to all conditions of a specific nature, not
just a local one.
Because its general nature enables it to make connections to similar conditions,
theorizing can extend across a number of situations and long spans of time. This
allows theorizing to operate in an overarching way, continuing to advance the
activity of clarifying through a variety of experiences and over numerous periods of
reflection. If theorizing was specific instead of general, there would be no possibility
of transferring clarifications from one instance to another or linking clarifications
together to build a more comprehensive understanding. As a general endeavor, the
activity is able to be applied in individual instances but also serves in a broader,
more comprehensive manner.
38 Defining theory


There are numerous insightful and informative writings that discuss a variety of
issues in architecture, yet these works are not necessarily documentations of
theorizing. The reasons for distinguishing a variety of texts from theorems
become apparent on their examination—not all contribute to the development
of a line of inquiry as they do not address conditions that are general in nature,
explore the topic in the abstract rather than in concrete ways, or investigate new
territory, to name a few distinctions. Yet these writings are still valued discussions
in the discipline because of the insights they introduce. An example of such a
text is Colin Rowe’s “The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa,” which compares Palladio’s
Villa Malcontenta, also known as the Villa Foscari, to Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein
at Garches.25 The observations conveyed by Rowe are specific to these parti-
cular designs instead of operating as a broader, generalized understanding
of the architecture of different eras. At the same time, Rowe offers a powerful
essay that influences the way we envision the role of mathematics in architecture
throughout history.
What is intriguing about Rowe’s comparison of the villas is that it connects
two buildings that seem to have little in common at first glance. Rowe notes
that although both structures were designed in different periods, they have
strong similarities in their geometries, including their overall form, general
organization and the proportions of their structural bays. Rowe states that “both
Garches and Malcontenta are conceived of as single blocks…each measuring
8 units in length, by 5 ½ in breadth, by 5 in height. Then, further to this,
there is a comparable bay structure to be observed.”26 Rowe notes that in
both instances, these bays are similar in their distribution along the length,
establishing a rhythm of 2:1:2:1:2, or A:B:A:B:A. However, in the breadth,
Rowe observes that “at Garches, reading from front to back, the fundamental
spatial interval proceeds in the ratio of ½:1½:1½:1½:½, while at the
Malcontenta we are presented with the sequence 2:2:1½.”27 There is no
doubt that there are strong geometrical connections between these buildings,
yet the two are not exactly the same.
Rowe’s identification of the correlations between these works introduces a
way of seeing commonalities in two buildings from periods of architecture that
are usually understood to be more distinct than similar. Rowe suggests that
both architects share a respect for mathematics, which may be seen as a time-
less aspect for design. For Palladio, math is understood to play a significant role
in the views of the period, associated with both reason and religion. For Le
Corbusier, math is viewed to serve as a logical response. Rowe states:

Thus, either because of or in spite of theory both architects share a

common standard, a mathematical one, defined by Wren as “natural”
Defining theory 39

beauty; and, within limitations of a particular program, it should therefore

not be surprising that the two blocks should be of corresponding volume
or that both architects should choose to make didactic advertisement of
their adherence to mathematical formulae.28

While Rowe proposes that each designer employs mathematics for different
reasons and with different results, both designs seem to rely on this system for
organization. The similarities identified in both plan and elevation are striking—
so much so that Rowe sheds new light on the role of mathematics as a strong
constant through the history of architecture. This type of correlation is continued
in the later comparison of Karl Schinkel’s Altes Museum and Le Corbusier’s Palace
of the Assembly at Chandigarh.29 Like the Villas Macontenta and Garches,
these two structures demonstrate strong similarities in their approach to
mathematical organization.
Comparisons between structures of different eras create an opportunity to
identify what is constant as well as what changes, yet the writing remains a
discussion of particular projects. Rowe limits his attention to a few select pieces
and advances a deep analysis of them. His specific observations are not intended
to be applied to a broader, more general understanding of entire eras. While
his analysis raises interests about the presence of mathematics in architecture
throughout the ages, Rowe doesn’t leap to this conclusion. Stating the com-
parison is the task at hand, and the strength and clarity of this accomplishment
remains in this particular contrast.
It is possible to use mathematics in design as a beginning point for theorizing,
exploring a line of inquiry that addresses the role of proportions and geometries in
understanding and organizing architecture. The presence of mathematics in
design has been recognized throughout history, and further development of
this way of clarifying may be seen to have potential. Rowe’s exploration pro-
vides a new way of looking at these issues but does not reach the level of
theorizing because of his concentration on specific buildings. Nevertheless, the
writing stands as a significant analysis in discussions of architecture.

Theorizing is abstract
Because theorizing operates at a general level instead of functioning as an isolated
local situation or event, the activity of clarifying is able to be separated from an
immediate and physical context. In this way, theorizing is an activity that is
abstract, able to be comprehended apart from the phenomena which it addresses.30
It does not depend on an exact setting or a particular occasion, distinguishing the-
orizing from what we may describe as tacit and explicit explorations, which are
connected to specific examples. Tacit and explicit explorations have played critical
roles in design but these ways of working differ significantly from that of abstract
40 Defining theory

investigations. A closer look at tacit and explicit operations sheds light on the
distinctions of the abstract nature of theorizing.
Tacit thinking is intuitive and implicit; it is often referred to as craft knowledge
or training because it is internalized, becoming highly personal and individual. For
example, the apprentice system in architecture is a tacit way of working because
the apprentices learn over time by helping a master, seemingly acquiring the master’s
talents through observation and association. It is as if understanding is inseparable
from and embedded in the studied phenomena. The knowledge is “in the hand”
rather than “in the mind,” and it is not only undocumented but also unspoken.
Tacit knowledge operates as an implicit, individual way of working that cannot
separate the events and learning.
What defines explicit knowledge is a direct expression or communication of
ideas. Explication is a way of working that offers a clear statement about a situation
or event, introducing the awareness that an understanding can be separated from
the particular piece it discusses. Oral, written and other types of deliberations are
capable of being documented and can exist apart from the conditions or happenings
that are communicated. Explicit knowledge is connected to education because it
allows for the establishment of a communal and cultural basis of discussion. An
example of comprehension that is explicit can be seen in the first years of law
school as students focus on learning the laws and cases, building a straightforward
knowledge base to be employed later. This understanding does not happen within
the courtroom; discussions of the events are communicated by professors and
through writings.
It is relatively easy to understand that knowledge about an entity can be
abstracted and systematized, able to be comprehended in a way that goes beyond
actual or specific examples. In other words, we can separate a clarification from a
phenomenon—they do not have to be linked in a type of one-to-one correspon-
dence. Once this separation occurs, the clarifications of many phenomena may be
put together in an original way, recomposed and expanded. Explanations or
understandings are able to be employed in other situations, merged with others
and applied to various conditions, or undergo other similar exercises. Writing
music can serve as an example of the use of abstract knowledge: the compre-
hension of scales and chords is understood not only apart from the sound (explicit
knowledge) but are also able to be arranged in a new manner. One well-known
story about this is Ludwig van Beethoven’s ability to compose even though he
was deaf—his abstract knowledge of music enabled him to write arrangements
without hearing them.
This discussion of the abstract nature of theorizing is not to infer that it neces-
sarily has to follow explication: Greek knowledge held theorizing to be primary,
understanding theoria to precede techne, which in turn precedes praxis. However,
seeking any kind of order regarding tacit, explicit and abstract knowledge is an
activity that provides little benefit, if any. Rather, the significance is the distinc-
tion between these types. It is difficult to exaggerate the differences between
the dependent connection of thinking and phenomena in tacit knowledge, the
Defining theory 41

one-to-one link of thinking and phenomena that can be clearly communicated

in explicit knowledge and the separable association between thinking and
phenomena in abstract knowledge. Because theorizing is defined as the activity
of clarifying, it is possible to identify it within tacit and explicit explorations
since these ways of working incorporate this type of explanation. However,
theorizing contrasts because it is capable of transcending the limitations of being
involved with specific instances. It attains an ability to engage in meta-level
thinking, independent of the particular. Theorizing establishes a relationship
between the activity of clarifying and the subject of this activity that is significantly
different from these same relationships in tacit and explicit approaches. The indepen-
dence of the emerging clarifications defines theorizing as an abstract and distinct
This characteristic can be clearly articulated through the example of cooking.31
Tacit knowledge of preparing cuisine is seen in chefs who learn from others,
repeating procedures that have been shared through actions observed in the
kitchen. For example, families have taught ways of creating particular dishes for
generations, passing along unwritten knowledge. How much to let the bread rise,
how thin to roll the pasta or how much salt to add is not measured but felt. This
can be compared to explicit knowledge in cooking, which is recognized through
recipes and cookbooks, communicating a set of instructions that allow ingredients
to be combined in a specific way that achieves a desired result. Measurements, timing
and a given process are dictated clearly. When followed accurately, predicted results
are realized. Both of these approaches differ from abstract knowledge of cuisine,
which is an understanding of how to make dishes in new ways or prepare unique
fare because there is knowledge of ingredients and processes that allows a chef to
recombine ingredients or processes in an original manner. A person is able to
comprehend the variable components that can add spice to a dish, make a dough
rise or recognize how time affects the procedure. Separating knowledge about
cooking from the kitchen achieves an abstract understanding of cooking, which is a
more theoretical approach to cuisine.

Theorizing is independent of specific linguistics

Theorizing is capable of being explained in a variety of languages or word combina-
tions. While this characteristic seems obvious, it recognizes that although theorizing
and theorems typically depend on language for their description, they are linked to
ideas rather than to a particular set of words. The description of theorizing may
happen in a variety of ways. This is stated succinctly by Frederick Suppe in The
Structure of Scientific Theories:

The propositions of a theory collectively do not constitute the theory; for as

‘theory’ typically is employed when referring, for example, to the special theory
of relativity or quantum theory, theories are extralinguistic, hence are not
collections of propositions. This can be seen from a consideration how theories
42 Defining theory

are individuated. Suppose a theory first is formulated in English, and then is

translated into French. The English formulation and the French formulation
constitute different collections of propositions; if theories were collections of
propositions, then the translation of the theory into French would produce a
new theory; but, of course, it does not—it is the same theory reformulated in
French. Similarly, quantum theory can be formulated equivalently as wave
mechanics or as matrix mechanics; whichever way it is formulated, it is the
same theory, though its formulation as wave mechanics will constitute a
collection of propositions which is different from the collection of proposi-
tions resulting from its formulation as matrix mechanics. Thus theories are
extralinguistic and are not collections of propositions.32

This characterization of theorems indicates that the focus of theorizing is the ideas
involved rather than how these ideas are expressed. It is the content—not the
manner in which the content is relayed—that differentiates one activity of theo-
rizing from another. This indicates an independence of theorizing from a particular
language formulation, collection of propositions associated with certain disciplines,
or other linguistic issues. An architect and a sociologist may both theorize about
the behavioral issues, for example, even though they are in different fields. We
understand that theorizing is centered on content rather than on a particular set of
propositions or the conventional language of a discipline.

Theorizing is a claim to truth or accuracy with the world

The activity of clarifying is an assertion about truth or accuracy because it aims to
illuminate or explain something as correctly as possible. This does not necessarily
require all inquiries to employ empirical methods, involving some type of testing
or evaluation in a search for “truth,” but it does indicate that there is the need for
an internal consistency or accuracy in regards to the inquiry.33 This characteristic is
critical to understanding theorizing as a development that is not merely an interesting
conversation but aids in establishing a consistent, coherent or accurate view of a
situation or issue through its activity. Elucidating simply does not occur under
circumstances that are known to be false—the idea of clarifying something in a way
that is recognized to be purposefully misleading or confusing is obviously at odds
with the goals of theorizing. While we have no assurance that the activity will
always be accurate because the situation may be reframed or reinterpreted at a later
date, it is at least deemed to be a truthful or accurate assessment at that particular
point in time. Such a set of circumstances can be identified in the time prior to the
work of Johannes Kepler and Sir Isaac Newton, when many instances of clarifying
attempted to explain the movement of the planets, but none seemed to be able to
describe the situation with much success. Then Kepler and Newton advanced what
they believed to be more precise assessments of the universe; Kepler’s three laws of
orbital motion followed by Newton’s three laws of motion replaced all previous
work as their accounts described the situation with much greater accuracy.34 In this
Defining theory 43

case, previous work was consequently replaced with theorizing that was more
reflective of the situation. There is never any assurance that the clarifying will be
true or accurate in any undertaking—it is simply that the inquirer believes, or has
plausible reason to think, that the clarifying that develops will be consistent or
accurate with the world. While truth and accuracy are not assured, the pursuit of
them is an important characteristic of theorizing.

Theorizing results in theorems that are able to be tested or assessed

Sir Karl Popper observed that theorems are proved false instead of true—attempting
to prove a theorem true is impossible as it would entail an exhaustive search of
how a clarification is supported, including understandings that are not yet known.
On the other hand, what makes a theorem invalid is the identification of an inaccuracy
within it. While it is impossible to secure the correctness of any theorem because of
the unknown, it is possible to prove that a theorem is mistaken. The ability to
review a theorem for the purposes of evaluating its accuracy or truth supports the
idea that theorems are capable of being tested and falsified—this is Popper’s criterion
of falsifiability. Such an assessment of theorems is critical because we are able to
identify the clarifications that currently withstand scrutiny, providing the latest
working assembly of explanations. Because theorems cannot be proven to be true
but are provisionally held as such until they are proven false, the idea that all theorems
are temporary stages in a process is reinforced. Some theorems may be in use for a
much longer period of time than others, yet regardless of their longevity all theorems
are seen to be available for refutation or revision. For instance, the medical field is
known to engage in a continual process of theorizing that results in developing
new theorems at a seemingly constant rate. History provides myriad examples, such
as introducing germ theory to supersede the miasmatic theory of disease, which
advanced “bad air” as the reason for illness, or the theorem that recognized bacteria as
the trigger for ulcers rather than stress, to name just a few. Through reason or
application, the ability to attempt to demonstrate the work to be false is a fundamental
understanding of this activity.
Because theorizing is a development based on a paradigm, its ability to be falsified
is tested or assessed in relation to its accuracy and consistency with both the
assumptions of that particular paradigm as well as the situations and events identified
in the world. While all paradigms are based on beliefs that are not capable of being
falsified, they are open to challenge and reason. A critical evaluation of a theorem
may shed light on the belief system that grounds the work because it discloses
whether or not there is coherence between the fundamental assumptions, the
theorizing and the world. In other words, assessing the accuracy or truth of the
theorem either brings about support for the clarification and its paradigm or identifies
flaws in the explanation and its worldview. In the end, the testing of the theorem
may result in accepting or rejecting not only the theorem but also the worldview,
as it is possible to ascertain a greater understanding of both the theorizing and the
44 Defining theory

Theorizing does not deviate substantially from existing theorizing

and theorems within the same paradigm
The relationship of theorizing to the paradigm on which it is based not only provides
a view from which to examine the theorizing but also establishes a set of assump-
tions and beliefs from which to work. With such a basis, a paradigm can be
understood to support consistent activities of clarifying. Theorizing that operates
from the same belief system creates a kind of family of clarifications, developing a
body of work that does not contain critical differences.35 An activity of clarifying
that accepts and works from a paradigm cannot deviate widely from other theorems
within that paradigm because they are grounded in the same presuppositions. To
introduce a significant departure from existing theorems of a paradigm indicates
that there is a rejection or substantial change of at least a piece of the established
assumptions, introducing a paradigm shift. Paradigm shifts are rare, occurring when
a basic presupposition is seen to be at odds with the world and the explanations of
it. If any dissonance of this type is identified, a paradigm shift is introduced and
leads to associated modifications of the related theorizing and theorems. In a similar
light, we can understand that theorizing forms close networks with other theorizing
and theorems within a paradigm, developing tight associations that are able to add
layers of connection and correlation. For example, theorizing about the role of
form in a culture may develop a body of work that provides insight to meaning in
a society; examining symbols contributes to a more particular line of inquiry.

Theorizing is not recurrent

While theorizing does not deviate widely from theorems based on the same paradigm,
it also does not repeat clarifications that are already in existence.36 Simply stated,
theorizing is non-redundant. Clarifying is defined as advancing a new contribution
to what is known. Repeating a clarification does not achieve this; simple repetition
is only a reiteration of what has previously been established. Theorizing does,
however, include actions that instigate the replacement of less efficient theorems
with more efficient ones because this change increases the precision and simplicity
of the theorem, which continues the act of clarifying.37 Theorems with great
effectiveness from a minimum expenditure replace those with less effectiveness or
more expenditure because the former achieves a more basic or elemental expression
than the latter, gaining greater clarity. Since it is still possible to convey clarifying in
a variety of ways, this observation is not to be interpreted to mean that theorizing
is dependent on specific language formulation. Instead it indicates efficiency and
simplicity prevails in communicating this activity.

Theorizing never ceases

A final point about theorizing is that it “never ask[s] the end.”38 Theorizing is a
process of being involved in thinking, working toward developing an explanation
Defining theory 45

without a requirement of stopping or achieving a specific endpoint. The process

may reach temporary resolutions, or theorems, but a definitive conclusion—a last
word—is never found. This continual nature is reflected in the understanding that
theorizing is an activity instead of a static condition. This process of theorizing and
arriving at theorems is cyclical, or hermeneutical, rather than linear. The resolutions
that are settled on for the moment are always continually revisited. We are
immersed in theorizing yet never develop more than temporary theorems. Theorizing
can also be understood to be continual because we cannot prove them to be true
or accurate, which creates a state of constant testing. Nevertheless, these theorems
capture the clarifying that can then be shared, applied or revisited to continue the
exploration. Even though it is always understood to be unfinished, theorizing is a
necessary and crucial step in attempting to achieve clarity. Our resolutions always
invariably include a degree of partiality and approximation that invites additional


As temporary markers, theorems document the process of ongoing theorizing
and record the various attempts to capture the work in increasingly improved
and extended ways. Architectural historian and critic Kenneth Frampton
demonstrates this in his discussions of Critical Regionalism. Appropriating this
term from Alex Tzonis and Liliane Lefaivre in their 1981 essay “The Grid and the
Pathway” and then further developing this discussion, Frampton recognizes the
role of the local yet also sees how new works need to be embraced. He states:

The fundamental strategy of Critical Regionalism is to mediate the impact

of universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculia-
rities of a particular place. It is clear…that Critical Regionalism depends
upon maintaining a high level of critical self-consciousness. It may find its
governing inspiration in such things as the range and quality of the local
light, or in a tectonic derived from a peculiar structural mode, or in the
topography of a given site.39

This explanation, included in his essay “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points
for an Architecture of Resistance,” discusses Critical Regionalism by advancing six
different topics for designers to address. In order, the six are: 1. Culture and
Civilization, 2. The Rise and Fall of the Avant-Garde, 3. Critical Regionalism and
World Culture, 4. The Resistance of Place-Form, 5. Culture Versus Nature:
Topography, Context, Climate, Light and Tectonic Form, and 6. The Visual
Versus the Tactile.40 While the theorem covers a wide range of issues, they are
framed with regard to their relation to design that responds to its place.
Two years later, Frampton published the second edition of Modern Architecture:
A Critical History with seven points on Critical Regionalism.41 The revised list is
46 Defining theory

largely a revision of the original, including: 1. Critical Regionalism as a marginal

practice, which replaces the previous first two points in lieu of an explanation
of the dialectic approach that Critical Regionalism has towards modernism,
2. Critical Regionalism as a consciously bounded architecture, revising the
discussion of place-form from the original fourth observation, 3. Critical
Regionalism as an engagement with tectonics, which is one of the elements of
the fifth observation, 4. Critical Regionalism as site-specific, combining the
issues of “topography,” “context,” “light,” and “climate” in the original fifth
point, 5. Critical Regionalism’s emphasis on tactile qualities, repeating the original
sixth observation, 6. Critical Regionalism as a reinterpretation of vernacular
elements, and 7. Critical Regionalism’s ability to operate in places that withstand
the force of modernization. Much of this material is similar to the original
theorem, but the work between that documentation and this revision
demonstrate a distinct activity of clarifying between the two works.
Frampton expands this theorizing again, capturing a third revision in “Ten
Points on an Architecture of Regionalism: A Provisional Polemic,” published in a
1987 issue of Center: A Journal for Architecture in America. In this essay, he
expands content to include a number of new dialectical issues.42 Specifically,
this theorem documents points as follows: 1. Critical Regionalism and Vernacular
Form, revisiting the previous sixth point, 2. The Modern Movement, addressing
the issue of the previous seventh point, 3. The Myth and the Reality of the
Region, noting the forces of “schools,” 4. Information and Experience, recogniz-
ing the contrast between reality and media, 5. Space/Place, reflecting prior
comments about the specifics of a site and extending the conversation to
include a phenomenological view, 6. Typology/Topography, which again
references the particular nature of the site but also introducing the idea of
universal forms, 7. Architectonic/Scenographic, which revisits tectonics but
moves beyond this to include design, then contrasts it with the representation
of this construction, 8. Artificial/Natural, which calls for design that offsets
modern techniques with a climate-responsive way of building, 9. Visual/Tactile,
reflecting the original sixth point, and 10. Post-Modernism and Regionalism,
advancing a design that avoids styles and embraces factors of climate and
place. The theorem clearly draws from the previous cycles of theorizing about
Critical Regionalism, but also includes material that may be seen to demonstrate
greater contrasts than the previous iteration. Frampton references the work as
“a provisional polemic,” clearly recognizing the temporality of the argument.
In “Critical Regionalism Revisited,” presented at a conference on Critical
Regionalism in Pomona, California in 1989 and published in 1991 in Critical
Regionalism: The Pomona Meeting, Frampton again revises his summations. In
his fourth and last essay that focuses on this particular subject, Frampton does
not put forward more issues but provides a shorter, broader list of three particular
points on culture and civilization, place-form and the visual and tactile.43 The
discussion still includes many of his previous observations yet the format has
clearly changed, moving to a more overarching view of these issues. While the
Defining theory 47

topics that are revisited in this theorem have strong connections to all theorems,
the focus on these as broader understandings shows a shift in the theorizing.
Frampton produces a third edition of Modern Architecture: A Critical History,
published in 1992, as well as Studies in Tectonic Culture, published in 1995. In
the final chapter of this edition of Modern Architecture, Frampton introduces a
discussion of reflective practice, exploring the work of Donald Schön and current
design.44 In Studies in Tectonic Culture, he examines the authentic nature of
making during the last two centuries. These investigations are obvious departures
from his efforts to develop Critical Regionalism but still acknowledge and accept
this work. His Studies in Tectonic Culture can even be seen as an extension that
springs from the topic of tectonics in Critical Regionalism, connecting this new
exploration to his previous one.
If we look at these four iterations of Critical Regionalism, we are able to
interpret this as evidence of the continual nature of theorizing. The four docu-
ments demonstrate an activity of clarifying that has undergone modifications over
time. For almost a decade, Frampton continued to hone this perspective and
communicate this understanding. Recording the progressive refinements
shows the persistent nature of his endeavor. While he has provided four
theorems, the work is still able to be revised further because greater clarity is
always sought.

These elements and characteristics of theorizing present a working list of com-

ponents and qualities that help us better understand the subject of theory in archi-
tecture and other disciplines. Breaking down the subject in this way has enabled us
to see the ingredients and how they work, illuminating their operations. These
elements and characteristics can be used to help us engage in activities of clarifying
and develop working explanations because they become a kind of blueprint for this
endeavor. It is also possible to review these components and their qualities as the
theorems in architecture are explored, shedding light on if and how they are pre-
sent. Working as a measuring device for theoretical investigations, these points are
critical in understanding the strengths and shortcomings of theorems. Conversely,
such an examination also provides a test of this proposed clarification. While the
elements and characteristics of theorizing are only a part of a larger description of
the subject of theory, examining theories in architecture through this lens operates
as a way of obtaining a clearer perspective of these works.

1 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn, enlarged (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1962), 174–5. It should be noted that Kuhn’s 1969 post-
script was not the end of this discussion, as numerous studies examining the various
applications and implied meanings of the word have followed.
2 Ferdinand de Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale, edited by Charles Bally and Albert
Sechehaye, published posthumously in 1916 in France, explored the imprecision of
48 Defining theory

language and established structural linguistics, which then became a foundation for
structuralism and post-structuralism in the latter part of the century, especially through
the work of philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.
3 Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. edn (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1983), 316–18.
4 Williams, Keywords, 318.
5 “Theory.” American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, new college edn, 1969.
6 Paisley Livingston, Literary Knowledge: Humanistic Inquiry and the Philosophy of Science
(Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988), 18.
7 Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1981), 147.
8 Michael Oakeshott, On Human Conduct (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 3.
9 Oakeshott, On Human Conduct, 2.
10 Oakeshott, On Human Conduct, 1.
11 Abraham Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science (Scranton,
Pennsylvania: Chandler Publishing, 1964), 85.
12 Support for this perspective is found in both Livingston’s Literary Knowledge, 228, and
Harold Rugg’s Imagination (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 22.
13 Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Learning From Las Vegas,
revised edition (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1977), 6.
14 Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour, Learning From Las Vegas, 13–18.
15 Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour, Learning From Las Vegas, xvi–xvii.
16 Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (Chichester, England:
Wiley-Academy, 2005), 9.
17 Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin, 9.
18 Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin, 9–10.
19 Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin, 10.
20 Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin, 11.
21 Livingston, Literary Knowledge, 225.
22 Yvonna S. Lincoln and Egon Guba, “Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research,” in
Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln
(Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1994), 105.
23 Livingston, Literary Knowledge, 18.
24 Livingston, Literary Knowledge, 225.
25 Colin Rowe, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays (Cambridge, Massachusetts:
The MIT Press, 1976), 3.
26 Rowe, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, 3–4.
27 Rowe, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, 4.
28 Rowe, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, 9.
29 Rowe, The Mathematics of the ideal Villa, 16.
30 William Widdowson, Seminar, Master of Science in Architecture Program, University
of Cincinnati. Cincinnati, OH, 1991 to 1993.
31 Widdowson, Seminar.
32 Frederick Suppe, “Development of the Received View,” in The Structure of Scientific
Theories, ed. Frederick Suppe (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 30.
33 Support for this view is found in both Livingston’s Literary Knowledge, 225, and Frederick
Suppe, “Alternatives to the Received View and Their Critics,” in The Structure of Scientific
Theories, ed. Frederick Suppe (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 120.
34 Karl Raimund Popper, “Of Clouds and Clocks: An Approach to the Problem of
Rationality and the Freedom of Man,” the Arthur Holly Compton Memorial Lecture
presented at Washington University, April 21, 1965 (St. Louis: Washington University,
35 Livingston, Literary Knowledge, 229–30.
36 Livingston, Literary Knowledge, 229–30.
Defining theory 49

37 Suppe, “Alternatives to the Received View,” 120–1.

38 Oakeshott, On Human Conduct, 2.
39 Kenneth Frampton, “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of
Resistance,” in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. ed. Hal Foster (Seattle:
Bay Press, 1983), 21.
40 Frampton, “Towards a Critical Regionalism,” 17–28.
41 Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, 3rd edn (New York: Thames
and Hudson, 1992), 327.
42 Kenneth Frampton, “Ten Points on an Architecture of Regionalism: A Provisional
Polemic,” in Center: A Journal for Architecture in America 3 (Austin: School of Architecture,
the University of Texas, 1987), 375–85.
43 Kenneth Frampton, “Critical Regionalism Revisited,” in Critical Regionalism: The
Pomona Meeting, ed. Spyros Amourgis (Pomona: California State Polytechnic University,
1991), 34–9.
44 Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture, A Critical History, 3rd edn, 328.

We have already recognized that theorizing operates within a paradigm, but much
can be gained by looking more closely at this relationship. It has been mentioned
that the term “paradigm” has been used loosely throughout history, ranging in
meaning from the state of a profession or different methods and models employed
in research. In this exploration, the term will be used to indicate the fundamental set
of beliefs from which an individual operates. This meaning may be more specifically
denoted as an “inquiry paradigm,” defined as the basic assumptions of an inquirer
and serving as the primary point of departure for her understanding. One’s view of
reality, perspective of knowledge and how both of these can be known are the
three most primary issues that identify a person’s position. Identifying these establishes
a point from which an individual perceives everything, addressing how we make
sense of ourselves and the world.
While this discussion may seem intimidating because of its philosophical nature,
it does not require us to start from the beginning and engage in lengthy debates by
revisiting the works of the great thinkers, pondering the purpose of the universe or
attempting to come to terms with ethical dilemmas. Instead it simply means that
we are compelled to address how it is that we comprehend existence from the
handful of possibilities available. Only a few key issues are in need of attention, yet
they are significant in their influence. The first is whether reality is understood to
be something that exists and is apart from us, ready to be identified and tested, or if
it is an environment that is inseparable from us because it is shaped through our
understandings. This divides those individuals who follow a more objective view of
the world from those who see it more subjectively, acknowledging the impact of
values and experience. An objective approach can be further demarcated in regards
to the role that bias and values play. Similar additional delineations can be made to
The paradigms that ground theorizing 51

a subjective perspective, narrowing the descriptions between a shaped reality that

occurs through an interplay of values or an inclusive assembly of various perspec-
tives. These few distinctions are profoundly significant, recognizing the basic
assumptions that ground thought and work.
These issues, however, are not mandatory to determine prior to any kind of
thought or action, including theorizing. Sometimes a paradigm can be identified
only through the analysis of a statement and the author never consciously considers
the assumptions from which she works. Even if a person is aware of his beliefs, it is
often not easily determined by others and may be debated for years. No “right” or
correct perspective of reality and knowledge exists. People hold different views
about the nature of the world and the relationships it offers or makes possible.
Differences in these views are seen in diverse cultures and throughout history. It is
easy to comprehend variations between societies that have vastly different back-
grounds and situations, but differing worldviews may also be found in close proximity
as two people within the same community can hold beliefs that are wholly dis-
similar. It is also possible for an individual to change paradigms. A person can be
raised and educated using one belief system, then shift to another when a new set
of ideas and circumstances are realized. Because all thought and activities—including
theorizing—operate from and are interpreted through these beliefs, it is critical to
comprehend how these influence our work. The impact of the connection
between one’s paradigm and theorizing cannot be underestimated.
The way in which we perceive all our activities and environments is influenced
by the paradigm in which we work because it is a basis that serves as the starting
point for all thought that follows. For example, if we believe that the world is
entirely independent of our values and experiences, then we approach learning
about our environment as if it is something that is to be discovered and see our task
as exposing this reality. Our endeavors are tailored to this understanding. The work
builds on these assumptions, constructing a consistent explanation. A different
paradigm introduces a different set of events that are also able to produce a logical
account of the world. One’s view of reality, knowledge and how this knowledge is
obtained all work together to provide a coherent explanation.
While beliefs can be articulated and debated, paradigms are accepted or rejected
without verification—what reality and knowledge are and how they are known
cannot be determined with certainty. Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba, two edu-
cators who have done considerable research regarding the role of paradigms in
learning, note that while “beliefs are basic in the sense that they must be accepted
simply on faith (however well argued); there is no way to establish their ultimate
truthfulness. If there were, the philosophical debates reflected in these pages would
have been resolved millennia ago.”1 A variety of possible belief systems have merit,
providing a number of alternatives that each have proponents as well as critics. The
philosophical impasse that exists is apparent and no single view of the world will be
accepted by everyone. Such a situation is not problematic, but it does imply a need
for an awareness of different worldviews and how they affect the work that is
52 The paradigms that ground theorizing

This position, of course, assumes that a belief system is necessary and present in all
work. Another possibility to consider is that paradigms aren’t the concern they
are proposed to be and that time spent on these quandaries takes away from other
areas that have a great potential for helping advance thought and understanding. In
this light, many post-modern thinkers believe the discussion about foundational
beliefs is one that simply isn’t needed anymore.2 Yet discussing the role of para-
digms can be seen to be helpful because making them explicit has the ability to
demonstrate their influence in theorizing. Specifically, this discussion does not
intend to resolve any impasse between competing paradigms but instead aims to
bring awareness to their differences and what this means for theorizing in archi-
tecture. While paradigms may be seen to be no longer of interest to some within
our discipline, exploring the situation to determine if they are assumed to be at
hand and in operation will show how various views are able to be identified in the
work. In this sense, paradigms are understood to be caught in an interesting situation:
while they cannot be verified, they can be seen to be influential.


It may be assumed that the role of theory in architecture is vital, yet recent
discussions in the profession have questioned this basic premise. To shed light
on this development, it is possible to review conversations about current design
thinking and activities in order to investigate the content for reference to
any theoretical connections. One architect who can be interpreted to demon-
strate this way of working is Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects. Her
endeavors seem to be guided by intelligent readings of complex situations, yet
the realization that the subject of theory is not mentioned as part of this is
telling. It is possible that design may be operating with a line of inquiry that is
loosely defined and structured, providing no significant direction or framework
and raising the question of whether or not theory is present.
Based in Chicago and founded in 1997, Studio Gang Architects is directed
by Jeanne Gang and Mark Schendel, two designers who gained experience at
OMA. While they do not identify a particular theory or even discuss the subject
in relation to their work, it may be possible to identify some consistencies in the
way they approach design. Jeanne Gang explains the process as a means of
communication. She states:

It starts with words, then sentences, and builds up from there until it
becomes a story. We start with ourselves, trying to use words, diagrams,
images, and all the other techniques available to us to describe what a
project is about and what’s the strongest way forward. Many times, there
are multiple ideas on the table, and sometimes a project can survive with
this lack of definition. Other times though, one idea is going to rise … this
method naturally then allows the ideas to flow further outward, to the
The paradigms that ground theorizing 53

audience at a lecture or a special program, or into publications that help

disseminate the ideas even further.3

By describing this communication as a story, the process reflects an approach

that is constructivist in nature as the work builds into a narrative. The perspec-
tive does not involve a particular set of values that work to negotiate an
understanding, nor does it seek out empirical data regarding the environment
in an effort to disclose a reasoned view. The information collected is varied,
ranging from the visual to text, and is assembled to create an understanding,
even if it is still loose or multi-faceted. Gang notes that the process can include
everything from stakeholder input to animal migration routes and shading
needs, becoming quite complex.4
For Gang, this approach increases the ability to convey the intentions of the
project. Yet the assembly of the information is not a simple task and operates at
many levels. In conversation with Sarah Whiting, Gang discusses Studio Gang’s
exploration of the Chicago River, noting:

It is such a complex story and solution. Just the history of it alone—the fact
that the river doesn’t even have a flow—makes “reversing” it not even the
right terminology. But we have made headway. A lot of it, Sarah, is testing
what resonates with people. We tried explaining it a few different ways
until we saw heads nodding. The fact is, it’s a very important story to
express, because if anything’s going to be done to improve the river it’s
going to need public support.5

The story becomes important for not only capturing a viewpoint but also
establishing one that connects to people, allowing them to better understand
the issues at hand.
Similar to the work of OMA, Studio Gang uses the narrative to organize a
significant and complex set of concerns. Gang builds a story through serious
and solid research, which includes reading and studying visual information as
well as explorations of materials and technologies. She comments:

For us, research is based on observing things very deeply so that before
acting and producing form, there is a period solely devoted to observation
and identifying the problem—knowing what the factors of the problem are,
regardless of whether they are hard facts about a site or attitudes or cultural
observations. Research is about getting that context of information into the
studio space before jumping into architectural or formal solutions.6

This research operates as a resource for the projects, keeping the process well
supported but flexible in its ability to allow the direction of the development to
change. It also builds understandings in various topics, enabling it to be used in
other investigations. Gang describes this research as both “deep background
54 The paradigms that ground theorizing

knowledge” and an “accumulation of information,” establishing it as a way to

focus the work in a number of endeavors.7
The activities of Studio Gang demonstrate a thoughtful engagement with
and about design, building narratives to understand design situations. The
conversations, whether among the designers or with others such as collaborators
and the general public, are rich with content. The research that enlightens the
work is thoughtfully assembled. With these characteristics, the paradigm on
which this work is grounded can be seen to be a constructivist one. And while
the process may be loose and only broadly understood as a flexible system that
includes a narrative composed of many kinds of observations and studies, there is
still some general line of inquiry or clarifying that is identifiable. Such unrestricted
and accommodating theorizing is able to operate well. Because theorizing is
not required to be acknowledged by its creators and users, it is possible to see
Studio Gang as employing a framework that is simply not discussed. Yet what is
also seen is that the absence of this discussion does not negate an ability to
clarify, nor does it make the clarification less successful.

Regardless of whether or not paradigms should be acknowledged or discussed, they

are often undefined and unrecognized because beliefs are rarely the center of
debate or even mentioned—as something simply accepted, these perspectives are
assumed and remain unspoken while attention is given to the investigation at hand.
An examination of paradigms can provide a great deal of insight about theorizing
in the discipline because it sheds light on the fundamental beliefs and how these
connect to various activities of clarifying. Differences in the basic assumptions affect
the work that is generated in significant ways, including the nature of the knowledge
that is advanced as well as the approach toward obtaining this knowledge. Coherence
within the systems can create strong positions for each instance of clarifying, but
the theorizing that generates from one paradigm can be seen to be significantly
distinct from the theorizing that another paradigm supports. These contrasts provide
a deeper understanding of the elucidations as well as offer diverse interpretations of
the characteristics that define theorizing. Identifying and exploring worldviews
begins an examination of this aspect of the subject of theory.

Ontology, epistemology and methodology

The previous remarks about what constitutes a paradigm beg a deeper investigation
of the possible understandings of reality, knowledge and how this knowledge is
gained. These issues give definition to inquiry paradigms and are known more
formally as ontological, epistemological and methodological positions, respectively.
By exploring a general understanding of these positions as well as identifying the
ways in which they are realized, we are able to see how theorizing is grounded and
can perceive the connections between the activities of clarifying and particular
views of the world.
The paradigms that ground theorizing 55

Ontology is easily argued to be the most primary of these paradigmatic positions
because it addresses our understanding of reality. The term ontology derives from
the Greek terms onto-, meaning to be or being, and –logia, noting reason, thought
or study. As the composition of the term implies, ontology is defined as the study
of what existence or reality is. This subject wrestles with the nature of reality and is
recognized as the first primary philosophical issue to be addressed. Whether or not
a “real” world exists or defining existence operate as the central concerns.
The weight of this discussion appears immense and intimidating—how does one
begin to sort through such a philosophically deep topic? As critical as this question
may seem, entertaining this dilemma is not mandatory. In fact, it is often one of
the more infrequent to be consciously undertaken and determined. This is because
it is possible to participate in all types of work—including theorizing—without
knowingly engaging this question. Ontological positions are typically only disclosed
when an individual communicates assumptions through the discussion of other issues
and views are relayed indirectly, operating as a supporting statement but not as the
message itself. Particular positions are able to be identified through an examination
of conversations that include these accompanying beliefs. Everyday discussions
often reveal how a person perceives reality in small but informative ways. For
example, a statement about the need to recognize one’s values in defining a place
may be an indication that reality is understood to be something that is created
rather than discovered. Such insinuations build an argument for a specific perception
of the world, working toward the identification of an ontological view after sorting
through various situations. It is as if the understanding of reality is something that is
progressively realized through reasoning.

Epistemology is the paradigmatic position that addresses knowledge. From the Greek
terms episteme, meaning knowledge, and –logia, explained previously as reason or
study, epistemology translates to the study of knowledge. Most generally, this
position describes what knowledge is, defining its general nature. How we perceive
what can be known contributes to establishing the foundation of everything we
understand. This is tied to how a person sees reality. In this way, epistemology
works in concert with the ontology.
Epistemology can be seen to be as intimidating to address as ontology because
the idea of identifying what knowledge is introduces another dilemma that cannot
be resolved with certainty. Yet because determining what is known connects to
one’s perspective of reality, the epistemological and ontological positions work
together to provide a more complete description that may make it easier to identify
how a person understands our situation in the world. Selections between these
positions vary from the belief that knowledge exists as an entity on its own to
the view that knowledge is dependent on the individual who establishes it. While
56 The paradigms that ground theorizing

there is a range of possibilities, a coherence between the ontological and episte-

mological positions is needed. A way of knowing that works with one’s view of
the world develops a consistent and rational position, even though this is still a
view that is accepted by faith and cannot be proved.

Methodology addresses the way in which knowledge can be obtained. From the
Greek words methodos, as a systematic process, and –logia, again as reason, thought
or study, methodology is defined as how a person pursues what can be known. As
the study or body of methods engaged to obtain knowledge, methodology references a
set of principles for how knowledge is determined. Methodology is sometimes
confused with the term “method,” but this term references specific processes or
practices. A person can speak of a methodological approach, explaining a broader
system of how knowledge is acquired, or he can talk about a method or means that
is employed during the course of an endeavor or a series of engagements. The
methodology addresses the reasoning or logic for the use of the method, while the
method is the specific process used. Like the relationship between ontology and
epistemology, methodology is connected to how reality is defined and how it can
be known.
Methodologies may speak to quantitative or qualitative principles or some
combination of both. The methodology forms a coherent set of positions with
ontology and epistemology, making the determination of the quantitative and
qualitative degrees dependent on these other positions. The methodology is
selected after the ontological and epistemological positions are chosen because the
approach to establish knowledge follows from an understanding of the world and
what is known. For example, an ontology that proposes a world in which truth
can be tested and determined could employ a methodology involving quantita-
tive means, understanding that the physical can be precisely measured. This
methodology is a body of practices that are defined by and employ quantifiable
means, while the methods are measurable processes. On the other hand, an
ontology that suggests a world that is shaped through a person’s experiences and
values may use a methodology that engages qualitative principles, using methods
such as compiling thorough interpretations. The relationship between the onto-
logical, epistemological and methodological positions forms a set of stances that
reinforce one another to serve as a consistent basis for all our thoughts and
This beginning description of inquiry paradigms is able to be further explained
through the four proposed by Lincoln and Guba as summarizing all worldviews
that are recognized and accepted.8 This basis specifically addresses the inquiry
paradigms employed in architecture, shedding light on how we grasp the work in
the discipline. The different worldviews can be shown to influence theorizing in
architecture in particular ways, linking the variety of work in the discipline to
diverse understandings of reality, knowledge and how these are known.
The paradigms that ground theorizing 57

Four worldviews
Out of all the ways of understanding ontological, epistemological and methodological
positions, we typically recognize these as assembled into four coherent inquiry
paradigms or worldviews. These four capture a wide variation of understandings
and represent those that are commonly recognized and able to generally describe
most perspectives. These paradigms are identified as positivism, post-positivism,
critical theories and constructivism.9 Positivism describes a paradigm that was
becoming established as the predominant foundation for thought in the Western
tradition by the sixteenth century, holding this position until the twentieth century.
The height of the era is noted by the works of Johannes Kepler and Sir Isaac
Newton. Their explorations viewed the world as an object that could be described
as perfect systems, explaining everything from the orbits of the planets to gravity
and tides.10 In the twentieth century, this paradigm was altered to introduce post-
positivism, which retained the objective view of the world but noted that identi-
fying its perfection is not likely to be attained. The paradigm of critical theories is
similarly recognized in this last century, incorporating an understanding of how
values play a role in fundamental beliefs. The fourth paradigm, constructivism, is
also more recently celebrated and defines a worldview that is built, or constructed,
in a hermeneutic way. While these differences are able to be identified at a general
level, a deeper investigation of these ontological, epistemological and methodological
positions shows distinct contrasts between the paradigms.

Positivism describes an ontological position that advances reality as a tangible
world, existing without our influence. Positivists believe that an actual, physical
world is present and operates on its own account. This world is possible for us to
understand if we investigate it to bring to light its embedded data, systems and
principles. In this way, reality is an existing thing that can be determined. Such a
view leads to an epistemology that is described as one in which a person studies the
world as a detached entity, understanding a clear separation between the observer
and the observed. The individual engaged in the examination is the subject,
inspecting the object, or world, in order to describe it fully and exactly, disclosing
all information that is possible to extract in order to disclose truth about the
information held by the world. This subject–object relationship, which can also
be referred to as objectivism, sees the object as holding all the information while
the subject is limited to a role of observer. For example, a person is able to discern
chemical compounds in materials or monitor biological processes, but these obser-
vations do not impact the events. While it is possible that we can influence the
world physically, such as affecting global temperatures with the burning of fossil
fuels or affecting the migratory routes of birds through farming, this worldview
comprehends the earth and its properties as something that we identify and dis-
cover. We are left to interpret and deduce, seeking knowledge about it that is true.
58 The paradigms that ground theorizing

While it may be conceivable to skew findings or recognize only selected informa-

tion, the paradigm depends on an unbiased view in order to identify truth. Meth-
odologically, the practice is primarily quantitative in nature, mining the object for
certainties. Positivism can be depicted as a subject–object relationship because the
investigation of the object by the subject includes a variety of methods such as the
collection of data and testing. Clearly, positivism’s view of reality, knowledge and
how these are known work together to form a coherent system.
Positivism is often linked to the tradition of science because we have established
a convention in this discipline of observing and investigating the material as if it is an
object to be examined, analyzed and evaluated. If we think about the ways in which
we approach physics or chemistry, for example, we study these subjects as if they are
composed of isolated items that can be taken apart in various ways to achieve what
we believe to be a complete and final understanding of them. This approach to
comprehending our world has been present since the time of the Greeks, rising to
dominance during the Enlightenment. Kepler and Newton’s work, establishing the
solar system as an exact organization in its planetary movements and gravitational
forces, is often referenced as the defining moment of positivism for thinkers such as
Sir Karl Popper.11 Since this era, however, the promise of positivism has been scru-
tinized. Problems with the precision of what is observed and our ability to mitigate
human bias and achieve exactness in our work begin to introduce doubts about
perfect understandings. While this worldview still remains strong and viable for
many disciplines, other possibilities have gained prominence in recent history.

Positivism advances the possibility of seeing the world and knowledge as a flawless
system, but knowing that this perfection may not be possible means that other
options have to be considered. One of the most obvious is simply accepting the

FIGURE 2.1 Positivism and post-positivism propose that a person and the world are distinct
and separate, and knowledge is built through investigation.
The paradigms that ground theorizing 59

limitations of positivism. We can continue the pursuit of comprehending the

world, but introduce adjustments as needed. This realization is detected in Albert
Einstein’s work with the theory of relativity, which recognizes that the relation-
ships between space and time can be seen to be relative, or not quantifiable with
absolute certainty.12 While this scientific breakthrough explained a great deal that
was previously confounding (just as Kepler and Newton’s work had done, yet with
the opposite effect), it also ushered out the idea that the world was a perfect system
that could be described as such.
Post-positivism proposes a worldview that answers this dilemma, slightly altering
the inquiry paradigm to acknowledge that reality is able to be only closely, rather than
exactly, realized. For post-positivists, the approximation is seen in both the fluctuations
of the objects as well as the abilities of the subjects performing the studies. In this way,
ontology in post-positivism advances a world that is still seen as a separate object,
consisting of information and principles to be identified; however, this data contains
disparities and depends on individuals who can only imperfectly apprehend it. The
epistemology of post-positivism retains the subject–object relationship but amends it
to understand that descriptions aim to be as accurate as possible instead of exact.
Knowledge is not true without doubt but most likely true and held as such until
proven false. Additionally, the bias of values on the part of the observer becomes a
recognized part of this relationship as the inability to obtain precise data introduces
an element of subjectivism—that is, because it is now apparent that extracting
information from the world is not possible without some uncertainty, one’s own
values are acknowledged as an influence. As the subject, a person plays a role in
creating the knowledge of the world. While every attempt is made to be unbiased,
values are understood to be a part of the process. The methodology still treats the
world as an object and quantifies observations and measurements of it; however, it
accepts that these readings are imperfect and inclusive of qualitative elements.

Critical theory
Einstein’s work introduced the opportunity to not only rethink positivism but
seriously consider different worldviews as well. While most of traditional science
embraced post-positivism as the next most relevant belief system for their purposes,
other ontological, epistemological and methodological positions were now examined
in a new light. These worldviews offer completely different understandings of
reality, knowledge and the relationship between them, but they can be seen to be
equally sound and consistent. While these views may have always been present, the
new paradigmatic landscape brought them both attention and legitimacy.
Critical theory summarizes one type of worldview that rose in stature during the
twentieth century. It proposes that reality is shaped rather than disclosed, under-
standing that any interpretation of the world is influenced by an individual’s values.
Critical theory takes the issue of personal bias and embraces it, acknowledging that
this influence cannot be dismissed or even temporarily set aside—a person and the
world are seen to be inextricably linked as the views and beliefs of the inquirer
60 The paradigms that ground theorizing

have a key role in defining what reality is. Instead of trying to account for these
prejudices and “correct” or compensate for them, this paradigm proposes that the
incorporation of these preconceptions enables us to arrive at an accurate description
of the world as these biases are real and alter how the world is understood. Social,
political, economic, and ethnic and gender forces, among others, are seen to
influence reality, contributing to the shaping of existence.
While positivism and post-positivism are able to be represented as a subject–object
model in which the subject is a passive receiver of the information held within the
object, critical theory sees the subject to be an active part of this duality as reality is
shaped through a person’s values. The subject is connected to the object because the
relationship between the world and the inquirer is a collaborative one. While we can
technically describe the epistemology of critical theory as subjectivist because what is
known is mediated by the values held by the inquirer, it is also possible to simply
state that knowledge is shaped, involving both the person and the environment.
Acknowledging the preconceptions held by the individual provides insight to the
paradigm as this establishes the nature of the mediation between the person and the
world. For example, it is possible to understand that economics influence existence as
money and resources are an integral part of how we understand reality. To explain
reality without this influence is impossible for the critical theorist as the world is shaped
by this force. The methodology of critical theory operates as a dialectical conversation
between observations of the world and values held by the inquirer. This dialogue
creates an informed and critical understanding that explains reality.

Constructivism is similar to critical theory as it is a paradigm that understands reality
to be affected by the inquirer. Yet instead of being influenced by values,

FIGURE 2.2 Critical theory proposes that reality is shaped through values, as knowledge
of the world is defined by influences such as economics, politics, culture,
gender, ethnicity and other forces.
The paradigms that ground theorizing 61

constructivism compiles understandings and experiences of past events and contexts

to create reality. While these perspectives can differ from one inquirer to another as
what each person has perceived and encountered is distinctive, the aggregation of
this forms a common understanding of existence. Rich and sophisticated con-
structions of situations establish an accuracy of this view. The epistemology for this
paradigm is subjectivist, as what is known is created through the understandings and
experiences of the inquirer, recognizing that one’s history of events and situations
as well as one’s awareness of other histories and contexts form a person’s world. In this
way, the subject is joined with the object and both work together to shape reality. A
reality that is constructed in this way can be seen in a citizen living in a particular part
of the world as she has been formed through experiences and perceptions gained
while growing up and participating in this setting, obtaining a personal knowledge
of the surrounding natural and built environments, and acquiring a familiarity with
the history and processes of that society. Her world is a construction that includes
and is shaped by these understandings and experiences. Her reality is informed over
time through this involvement, which is mental, emotional and physical. The
methodology of this paradigm is hermeneutical and dialectical, working from all
these histories and perspectives to build a deep, complex and balanced construction
of the world.
Constructivism is sometimes associated with relativism, which references a type
of thinking that allows a person to selectively ignore information in order to define

FIGURE 2.3 Constructivism proposes that a person constructs reality through a combi-
nation of experiences and understandings of past events, contexts and
people, building a deep and sophisticated interpretation.
62 The paradigms that ground theorizing

reality as he wishes. However, constructivism does not favor particular under-

standings and disregard others, as this would be at odds with building a truthful
description of the world. An accurate reality is established by including a diverse
range of understandings and experiences, however messy this may be. Constructivism
does not compromise on diversity of thought, nor does it simplify them to reduce the
effect of their contributions. All perspectives are heard and respected, creating a
complex understanding of the world. Conflicts are often recognized and accepted
as part of the paradigm. Like critical theory, values can influence the worldview;
however, one particular value does not play a dominant role in shaping the
understanding. Many values are able to be involved in creating an informed
description of the world and they are employed in a collaborative manner. In this
way, constructivism is a broad, inclusive worldview.
Together, these four paradigms present a range of possibilities for describing
understandings of reality, knowledge and how these are known. A better awareness
of this array allows for clear comparisons regarding the assumptions we make about
our condition in the world, establishing a better understanding of the basis of our
work. Reality can be seen to be a separate entity that can be disclosed precisely or
at least approximately, or it may be understood to be inextricably linked to us and
shaped by our values, or integrally connected to us because it is a construction of
our collective and individual histories, experiences and thoughts. While these
contrasts present straightforward distinctions, we also recognize that identifying
these paradigms and determining the one with which we associate is not a simple
exercise. Paradigms are not easily discussed because they are believed without evidence
and embedded in our thoughts, making it difficult to recognize them and tease out
their influences. Assessing them is not an everyday or routine activity. Pinpointing
beliefs in the work of others may be even more difficult and require a considerable
amount of exploration without any assurances that a paradigmatic basis will be able
to be determined with certainty. Yet if worldviews are identified, deeper insight
regarding the work that is grounded on them is possible.

The cacophony of worldviews

Worldviews of every type are used for theorizing in architecture. This is apparent
when we study the discussions within the discipline, realizing that they are based on a
variety of understandings of reality, knowledge and how these are known. Although
some historical periods are seen to comprise texts that indicate the presence of a
dominant paradigm, our current situation is one in which a number of paradigms
are able to be identified and provide a solid basis for different ways of thinking.
This reflects Livingston’s recognition of many “lines of inquiry” and supports the
acceptance of many types of clarifications within a single discipline.13 Such variety
is able to flourish without the need for establishing consensus or coherency. While
seeing the diversity of worldviews surrenders the possibility of a single paradigm
that is able to cohesively join all theorizing in architecture, we are able to reap
many benefits from an ability to understand and operate among many views.
The paradigms that ground theorizing 63

What would architecture be like if all the thought in the discipline was based on
one worldview? To imagine architecture operating from one paradigm is to imagine
a body of work that shares a common understanding of reality and knowledge,
creating a greater opportunity for a “grand theory.”14 That is, the possibility exists that
only one dominant line of inquiry is reasonable and accepted within any discipline,
making the work integrated and cohesive. Many sciences can be characterized to
be in this type of situation. Chemistry, for example, largely employs a post-positivist
view. The explorations of the nature of chemical compounds and the matter that
comprises them work primarily from a single belief system. One line of inquiry
produces circumstances that allow for a great deal of collaboration between activities
of clarifying as well as the possibility of working toward a theorem that explains
myriad events or observations. Geology is another example and involves an inter-
esting evolution of thought: geologists introduced numerous ways of explaining the
composition of the earth and its movements, creating many theorems that were
able to describe various aspects. However, it was not until the theory of plate tectonics
that everything from rock types and fossil locations to earthquake zones and con-
tinental formations could be explained in one account. Geology may have already
enjoyed a post-positivist foundation, yet identifying such a strong and clear perspec-
tive established not only a paradigmatic basis but also a specific “line of inquiry”
that enabled all explanations to work in harmony. Like all “grand theories,” this
one clarifies an enormous amount of information, supported through the one line
of inquiry that dominates the discipline. These types of theories occur occasionally,
happening throughout history in areas that largely exercise one worldview and are
able to see a system of coherent connections.
The development of “grand theories” cannot be ruled out for disciplines that
engage a variety of worldviews; however, such a dominant explanation is typically
supported only in fields that utilize one prevailing paradigm because there is fun-
damental agreement on the situation at hand. A “grand theory” advanced in a
discipline that involves many belief systems has the challenge of convincing various
inquirers to accept one particular way of clarifying. For example, “grand theories”
in sociology may be presented, yet because no one paradigm clearly dominates the
discipline, there is always a significant faction that will disagree with it. Critical
theorists in sociology may offer an explanation of society that focuses on gender,
while constructivists will see this as only one influence among many. While
attempting any kind of resolution of these conflicts is difficult, it has never stopped
the search for clarifications that explain the entirety of a discipline even though the
plausibility is not promising. Many thinkers have attempted to develop “grand
theories” that explain what they see to be the totality of architecture, but these
explanations have yet to be adopted by the profession. While many of these proposed
overarching theories may not be convincing in the first place, the different foun-
dational beliefs that are present in architecture add to the difficulty of achieving a
single resolution.
Although the possibility of a “grand theory” still exists and should not be ruled
out even though its occurrence seems unlikely, the many worldviews at play in
64 The paradigms that ground theorizing

architecture do not indicate a discipline that is lacking or unsophisticated. The

different systems of beliefs create a circumstance in which many activities of clarifying
vie for proposing truthful and accurate explanations, having much to offer. With
no single dominant worldview, the theorizing presents a range of work that is able
to discuss the discipline in a variety of ways. It may be argued that there is strength in
a “grand theory,” but it is also possible to understand that a variety of lines of
inquiry are an indication of a healthy discipline because of the ability to understand
it through different beliefs. The realization that these explanations provide good
descriptions further supports this understanding. A discipline that includes diversity
in the possibilities of its comprehensions and explorations can be seen to disclose
both power and depth, establishing many ways to understand and advance its
work. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to see how views “hang together”
and create a more inclusive description of the situation, using the best of all possible
options.15 In this way, a cacophony of worldviews in any discipline has a great deal
to offer.

Worldviews in the discipline

Simple awareness of these paradigms helps establish a broad basis that enables us to
realize the various lines of inquiry that are at work in architecture. The distinctions
of these worldviews illuminate the wide varieties of approaches found in the dis-
cipline. While we can accept that the positivist paradigm is no longer actively
considered, we see that it has been replaced by the post-positivist perspective that
offers an objectivist understanding. This stands as an alternative to the subjectivist
positions of critical theory and constructivism. All of these paradigms offer strong
and rich contributions that have been and continue to be an active part of design
dialogues. The prominence of these paradigms can be seen to change over the
years, with different perspectives rising and falling in their appeal. Yet all are still
employed and explored, keeping the discipline developing through many different
Post-positivism in the discipline is identified in perspectives that have attempted
to see the environment as an object that has properties ranging from the physical to
the aesthetic. The quest becomes a task of compiling everything in the world as
quantifiable data. Knowledge of these characteristics is intended to provide a solid
basis for design. While many approaches in architecture include quantifiable infor-
mation, one of the more well-known and influential ones is described as behavioral
science. Behavioral science seeks to comprehend human behavior in an objective
way, both in understanding users in architecture and in outlining professional
methods. Behavioral science operated as a dominant paradigm in the 1960s, pro-
moted for responding to problems arising from an architecture that seemed to be
focused on aesthetics and form rather than human needs and comfort, seen in
projects such as the Modernist housing of Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri.16 By
grounding design work on a thorough and tested knowledge of the environment
rather than designers’ opinions, behavioral science aims to make design a more
The paradigms that ground theorizing 65

explicit and straightforward process. Information about the world is able to be

documented and accumulated for use in the discipline. Additionally, an awareness
of the procedures of design can be made clear, which not only avoids confusion
and mystery but better supports collaborative work.
A paradigm that sees the world as an object able to be examined and known to a
sufficiently sophisticated degree can be seen as highly beneficial to the discipline. If
it is possible to know the principles and information dealing with topics such as
structures, environmental systems, culture, human comfort and appeal, we can
establish a line of inquiry that results in effective design. Architects who operate
through this view believe that such knowledge of the world supports theorizing
that is able to address these critical topics and advance a valued way of designing.
Discussions of an understanding of climate, for example, may include knowledge of
seasonal sun angles, temperature ranges and precipitation information. Many
inquirers have invested considerable time in researching the environment to build
such a knowledge base, believing that the more that is known about the world
enlightens our understandings and endeavors.
While this paradigm swept through the discipline in the 1960s, even influencing
education in design, it never achieved the status of a “grand theory,” in part due to
the unwieldy nature of the information as well as the discrepancies between the
description of the design process and what was actually experienced.17 In hindsight,
the environment provides more material than can be evaluated and incorporated in any
design process as designers were examining everything from optical responses and
ergonomics to thermal and acoustical properties. This information can be argued to
be important but was unwieldy to address. It also needs to be prioritized rather
than just applied, and questions about the rankings and order of importance for
environmental responses, aesthetics or other information was not clear. The data
alone were unable to ensure a line of inquiry resulting in work that is guaranteed to
achieve success. Yet regardless of these issues, many inquirers continue to operate in
this paradigm in order to build a knowledge base and advance a line of inquiry that
sees the world as a quantifiable object. While the paradigm is no longer seen to
offer an ultimate solution, the view still holds great value because of the focused
and explicit understandings it provides.


If we adopt an objective worldview, then we define reality by facts that are
considered to be “true” and able to be combined together to establish a
knowledge base. This paradigm has been a common one for designers to
employ, as thoroughly researched and well-organized data about the environ-
ment is able to directly inform the work. Architects routinely attend to weather,
the performance of materials, and other similar issues that are able to be
quantified. Glenn Murcutt is among those who tap into this understanding: his
structures demonstrate a response to climatic conditions at both the micro and
66 The paradigms that ground theorizing

macro levels, the individual characteristics of the site as well as the plants and
animals of the area, regional culture and familial structures, materials, and a
host of other concerns.
In presenting his projects, Murcutt goes to great lengths to expound on
particular characteristics of sites and clients.18 He notes the longitude and latitude
of the project location, explaining the elevations, wind conditions and rela-
tionships to other geographical features. He knows not only all the flora and
fauna in the region but also studies them at the site, understanding how the
slope of the land, the soil conditions and other such factors affect the growth
of plants or the migration patterns of the animals. He knows the sun angles in
the winter and summer months, including the exact position of solstice sunrises
and sunsets on the horizon. Cultural attributes are also understood and
acknowledged, including everything from native customs to the structure and
habits of the family. The degree to which he absorbs and uses this information
cannot be downplayed. He explains:

As a child, my father taught me about landscape. Learning about land-

scape doesn’t mean learning the names of plants. It’s about understanding
the structures and order of the land. My father would take me up a hillside
and point out to me why certain plants grew where they did, and how
different the same plants were depending on where they grew on the
hillside. For example, an angophera costata (Sydney Red Gum, eucalyptus
tree) growing low on a hillside is an entirely different tree to the same
plant at the top of the hill. Over tens of thousands of years, rain has
leeched the nutrients out of the top of the hill, where there is also a low
water-table and strong wind. At the bottom of the hill the water table is
higher, the soil is deeper, there are more nutrients in the soil, and the
wind pressures are less. The trees grow more vertically than those at the
top of the hill where you can see them blown down or lying back, pushed
by the wind.19

His knowledge of not only the type of tree but also the effects of the immediate
conditions shows the depth to which he understands and respects empirical
information. His comprehension of this kind of information is extensive, playing
a significant role in his work.
Yet this comprehension demonstrates more than just an implementation of a
strong knowledge base—it also defines Murcutt’s view of the world and
approach to it. A scientific perspective discerns what is accurate or truthful
about a situation in order to identify reality and knowledge. Assessing data
builds an understanding through an objective lens. Murcutt reflects on this in
his description of architecture, stating that it is:

a marvelous expression of the process of discovery…It’s like a scientist on

one level, who doesn’t know the answer but knows the path to it, the path
The paradigms that ground theorizing 67

of discovery…We don’t create, we discover. Creation embodies an arrogance,

an elitism, something you are gifted with. I don’t see all that.20

Murcutt understands that this process of discovery is dependent on a well-

developed knowledge base, which is linked to quality architecture. Murcutt
comments that “[g]reat poetic potential arises from the utilitarian. I cannot
separate the rational from the poetic.”21 His grasp of factual information not
only supports but leads his design process.
The importance of a scientific approach becomes key to the success of
architecture. Murcutt argues that this information needs to be the basis of
design. He states:

Our profession has lost whole chunks of empirical knowledge, all the rules
of thumb, for instance, that made it impossible to design an awkward
staircase, or a fireplace that smoked, or a roof drainage system that flooded.
Once, the application of these rules of thumb made even a mediocre
architect a reasonable designer. The problem is much more than whether
an architect graduating now can detail downpipes or sunshading efficiently,
or can properly insert an opening into a wall plane. The loss of basic
knowledge and the contemporary disregard for design principles are
symptomatic of an enormous general shift in attitudes about what is
appropriate to teach architects…We stopped teaching architects to go out
and measure the real world and to observe natural phenomena, because
we believed that sophisticated technology rendered this quaint sort of
measurement obsolete.22

For Murcutt, his view of the world enables a designer to work from solid factual
information. A strong understanding of a well-developed knowledge base pro-
vides design with an approach that is dependable, repeatable and able to be
expanded. While the reliability and straightforward nature of the system may
appear to be objective and distant, it also may be argued to help shape
reasonable and even poetic architecture.
It needs to be noted that this perspective is able to be understood in a way
that is inclusive of aspects and issues not easily measured, rather than assuming
that it is simply limited to factual data. Yet a strong objective approach is able to
address these concerns. Murcutt notes:

Too many architects do not have the confidence and strength to influence
the political and economic systems that shape cities. If the profession is to
stand up to these forces, then it will only be through a deep understanding
of the principles of ecology and design within our cultural context.23

By achieving a built environment that is shaped by objective understandings,

Murcutt sees that other aspects of society are addressed. Developing
68 The paradigms that ground theorizing

architecture through a strong comprehension of data provides an improved

overall situation.
While it is apparent that Murcutt values and engages in a factual knowledge
base, his comments about political and economic systems or the idea of
the poetic show that he sees the world to consist of more than simply objective
information. These references show that he acknowledges complexities in
everyday life as well as the presence of what may be considered to be unmea-
surable. In this light, it is critical that our perspective of Murcutt does not
become reductive, limiting our understanding of his work by seeing and
describing it as strictly post-positivist without accommodation for or recognition
of other influences. If we were to impose a limited explanation of his viewpoint,
we would categorize his view unfairly, disconnecting it from other factors that
Murcutt identifies. For Murcutt and others, it may be evident that a particular
paradigm is employed, yet narrowing an interpretation of an approach short-
changes both the description of the individual’s views and work as well as our
understanding of the situation.

The paradigms of critical theory and constructivism can be frequently identified

as foundations for thought in architecture and offer compelling alternatives to a
post-positivist worldview. Because these perspectives propose a way of seeing the
world as shaped or constructed by their values and experiences, they seem to have
a natural correlation with the creative thinking found in design. In architecture,
these paradigms involve views such as those referenced as critical theories, struc-
turalism, post-structuralism and phenomenology. They offer ways of seeing the
world that are subjectivist in nature, acknowledging an individual’s role in under-
standing reality. While Lincoln and Guba make overt distinctions between these
paradigms, the differences between critical theory and constructivism are less clear
in architecture. However, distinctions between the paradigms can still be seen as
critical theories operate in more of a dialectical manner, negotiating between
specific values and the world, and the hermeneutical method is predominant in
constructivist views.
Critical theories provide a perspective in which the world is shaped by values
such as politics, economics, society, gender or other similar forces, and designers
who employ this way of thinking see these issues as powerful factors in the creation
of built environment. Individuals who routinely engage in making, especially in
regards to the physical landscape, easily connect these influences to the creation of
reality because they link these effects to the work they do. Marxist-inspired
inquirers such as Kenneth Frampton propose a world that is formed by the standard-
ization and modernization brought about through economic and social changes.
Critical theories can also involve inquirers such as Dolores Hayden, who under-
stands reality to be affected by gender, economics and culture. Her views of the
suburbs perceive corporations and government to identify and support differences
between the roles of men and women. The values that play a leading role in
The paradigms that ground theorizing 69

understanding reality and knowledge enable unquantifiable factors to be acknowl-

edged. The power of these effects is often recognized in our daily routines and can
be argued to be just as influential as elements and properties that are part of the
material environment. We are able to see a negotiation between these values and
the physical world as the inquirer develops knowledge of reality by working
between the values she holds and the observations of the environment to arrive at
an informed and supported interpretation. By balancing observations and values,
works of critical theories are able to propose strong and persuasive views for the


Paradigms are described by Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba as being accepted
“simply on faith,” noting that there is not a single correct answer to how one
understands reality, knowledge or how knowledge is obtained.24 While this
may seem limitless, we know that the possibilities are able to be summarized in
four different ways. Yet one of these possibilities—critical theory—introduces
the need for further clarifications because the world and knowledge is able to
be viewed through a wide range of values. Forces such as economics, politics,
gender, race and culture, among others, are able to each mediate the under-
standing of reality and knowledge to form a distinct approach. Different individuals
identify different values to shape particular approaches. Architectural historian
Dolores Hayden offers a view that considers the effect of gender, making a
compelling argument to the comprehension of the world and what is known.
In Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing and Family Life, she states:

The United States has a housing crisis of disturbing complexity, a crisis that,
in different ways, affects rich and poor, male and female, young and old,
people of color and white Americans. We have not merely a housing
shortage, but a broader set of unmet needs caused by the efforts of the
entire society to fit itself into a housing pattern that reflects the dreams of
the mid-nineteenth century better than the realities of the twenty-first
century. Single-family suburban homes have become inseparable from the
American dream of economic success and upward mobility. Their presence
pervades every aspect of economic, social, and political life in the United
States, because the mass-production of these homes, beginning in the late
1940s, transformed the American landscape.25

Hayden’s discussion of the current “realities” is telling—existence consists of

“unmet needs” affecting a wide variety of individuals. Her description of the
world is shaped by forces that dictate and support a lifestyle defined largely by
stereotypical gender roles, identifying a disconnect between the actual situations
and the expectations. How gender shapes our reality is recognized.
70 The paradigms that ground theorizing

Hayden understands that her view of the world is not shared by the majority,
yet believes the way in which she sees the situation is an accurate description
that accounts for issues that should not be overlooked. An understanding
without consideration for half the population can be easily argued to provide
an untruthful or incomplete view. Hayden not only notes the lack of like-
minded thinkers in regards to her perspective but also acknowledges that this
needs to change in order to address reality. She comments that “[t]here is a
curious silence about women in all of the anti-sprawl literature. No new ideals
of neighborhood or sustainability can prevail without critical reexamination of
attitudes toward women as earners or nurturers.”26 While gender issues shape
reality, our inability to face them has helped continue to create an environment
that does not consider these values.
In order to argue for this understanding of reality, Hayden continues to skill-
fully present extensive research, demonstrating how everything from corporate
marketing to government policies has aided an environment that does not
treat gender equally. She notes:

In the late 1940s, American builders mass-produced the home as haven

and transformed our urban regions to fit this model, with its particular
social, economic, and environmental shortcomings. During the last six
decades, government subsidized programs have concentrated the bulk of
capital resources for housing on the single-family detached house. About
80 percent of the total housing stock in the United States in the year
1999 was built after 1940…These houses encode Victorian stereotypes
about “a woman’s place,” while single-family neighborhoods sustain the
separation of the household from the world of jobs and public life. Together,
houses and neighborhoods form an architecture of gender unsuited to
twenty-first-century life.27

Her perspective of the world can be seen to be well grounded, based on her
knowledge of the built environment as well as a wide variety of policies and
statistics. Her ability to demonstrate such extensive support of her view creates
a situation in which the paradigm she presents demands respect and serious
study, swaying readers to adjust or even entirely convert their understandings
of reality. Hayden has addressed the value of gender in a way that is able to
influence our view of the world, establishing a compelling paradigm.

Constructivism also offers a view of the world that is subjective in nature, yet
these perspectives are created by the accumulation of experiences and under-
standings of the inquirer, establishing a position from consensus and compromise
rather than a dialectic relationship. In architecture, lines of inquiry that generate
from a comprehension of histories, cultures, events, beliefs, perceptions and other
such factors develop a view of reality that acknowledges the influence of a complex
The paradigms that ground theorizing 71

context and its understandings. It is a perspective that recognizes the reality an

individual knows is dependent on what that person has experienced as well as her
interpretations of these events. The understanding of the world is able to achieve
depth and sophistication with continual reflection and a constant building of con-
nections, expanding understandings of the situation. Phenomenologists such as
Steven Holl discuss a reality that is created through history and senses, responding to
everything from culture to texture. Structuralism and post-structuralism investigations,
such as those considered and explored by Peter Eisenman, present a socially con-
structed world. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan advances a
playfully written cultural history by Rem Koolhaas, mixing past events and human
behaviors to provide an insightful look at New York City. It is a narrative that
demonstrates a rich combination of views and issues. While Koolhaas and designers
such as Jeanne Gang devote less time to discussions of theory and are more con-
cerned with how complexities inform design, their activities can be seen to actively
work to incorporate myriad issues, ranging from consumerism and technology to
sustainability and ecosystems. Although there is diversity in these views, they all
propose a reality that is created through a combination of values, histories, envir-
onments, events and insights. Assembling these understandings and constantly
reviewing and expanding these associations achieve a rich and informed inter-
pretation of the situation in which we find ourselves. In this way, constructivist
lines of inquiry advance perspectives that encompass a wide variety of key issues.


It is possible to identify a single paradigm as the dominant way of thinking
among groups of people or within certain disciplines at particular times
throughout history. A shift from the preference of one set of beliefs to another
may even be recognized. In recent decades, the development of a worldview
based in constructivism has been seen as a rising force in architecture, addressing
the shortcomings of a popular critical theory viewpoint. One of the individuals
involved in this movement is Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect, urbanist and
theorist. Tracing the evolution of his writings and practice discloses a great deal
about the role of this paradigm in his work and the shift toward the presence of
this worldview in the profession.
In 1978, Koolhaas published Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for
Manhattan. Koolhaas explains the work as a fictional piece responding to the
“mountain range of evidence” that is offered by the city. 28 He states:

This book is an interpretation of that Manhattan which gives its seemingly

discontinuous—even irreconcilable—episodes a degree of consistency and
coherence, an interpretation that intends to establish Manhattan as the
product of an unformulated theory, Manhattanism, whose program—to
72 The paradigms that ground theorizing

exist in a world totally fabricated by man, i.e. to live inside fantasy—was so

ambitious that to be realized, it could never be openly stated.29

The text discusses the complex and unique urban situation offered by New York
City, yet accomplishes this in a way that assembles a varied array of past events
and situations. Framed as a backdated and hypothetical manifesto in the midst
of a time when architects were producing many thoughtful and resolute
declarations for their work, this text also openly talks of theory with an arbitrari-
ness not often associated with the topic. Koolhaas prefaces the work by noting
that it captures an imperfect understanding of the urban environment, stating
that “this book describes a theoretical Manhattan, a Manhattan as conjecture, of
which the present city is the compromised and imperfect realization.”30 As a
fictional narrative, the book operated as a piece that Koolhaas sees as allowing
him to explore within the current context of “isms” without developing or pro-
moting a certain one.31 The possibility of considering alternatives can be linked
to a diverse and accepting context. Koolhaas reflects on his time at the Institute
for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City, stating:

It was a time when the Institute was probably much less rigorous and much
less rigid in its alliances. There was not a single person in that period in
New York that I was not at some point, or to some extent, sympathetic to
or involved with, or who did not in some ways include what I was doing…
The big unknown in this story is the influence of Matthias Ungers…
Michel Foucault also happened to be teaching there that year, as well as
Herbert Damisch.32

The works of these individuals support the exploration of a number of topics

and ways of thinking. For example, Foucault’s philosophy advances reality and
knowledge to be constructed of social and cultural associations, introducing
fertile ideas that entertain new structures of understanding and reframe views
of contexts and relationships. Along with the influence of Bernard Tschumi’s
teachings of post-structuralist works such as those of Henri LeFebvre and Jean
Baudrillard at the Architectural Association in London in the early 1970s, Kool-
haas was well prepared to rethink traditional views of the discipline.33 Matching
this with an era of globalization, free market economies and political unrest,
Koolhaas realized the opportunity to experiment with the complexities and
diversities that define the past few decades of architecture.
This situation can be contrasted with a critical theory approach to archi-
tecture, in which reality is shaped through negotiations between values and
observations of the world. As a leading line of thinking during this time, an
approach from a critical viewpoint offers an understanding that is always per-
ceived in relation to how it reflects values and beliefs. This perspective includes
many discussions such as Kenneth Frampton’s Critical Theory and Dolores
Hayden’s views of gender and architecture. One text of note during this period is
The paradigms that ground theorizing 73

K. Michael Hays’ ”Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form,” included in

Perspecta 21.34 Such a pairing of culture and form introduces the question of how
these two forces are to be negotiated. Koolhaas, serving as the celebrated opponent
to this view, famously denounced this approach at an event at the Canadian
Centre for Architecture in 1994. Stating that these discussions had an “inability to
recognize there is in the deepest motivations of architecture something that cannot
be critical,” Koolhaas takes to task the basic assumption of this perspective.35
Several years after this event, Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting, two academics
in architecture, joined forces to author “Notes Around the Doppler Effect and
Other Moods of Modernism,” which advanced a “projective” architecture.36 This
type of endeavor was described as not proceeding through oppositional negotia-
tions but by projecting different situations in order to move forward, similar to
how Doppler radar operates by assembling various pieces of information. Michael
Speaks, another academic in the field, also offered a non-critical approach to
architecture by comparing it to the modes of working that are found in business
and governmental intelligence agencies.37 While Speaks’ proposal seems to focus
on more of an activity than a way of thinking, the projective identifies an archi-
tecture determined by programmatic needs with clear diagrams, ready to leave
behind the overworked debates for a more liberating approach.
While Koolhaas has served as the prominent leader for this new architecture,
he can also be seen to have stepped back from not only proposing a theoretical
understanding for this approach but even engaging in a discussion of theory in
general. After his “unformulated theory” in Delirious New York, he championed
five theorems as part of the “Theory of Bigness” in S, M, L, XL in the 1990s, but
then the topic does not arise as a central issue in his later publications and
more recent conversations.38 If the subject is debated, it is typically introduced
by those who are speaking to or about him in recent times or he references the
term without indication of a particular development. Koolhaas seems to have
focused on revisiting the philosophical views of his education instead, taking an
approach to work that is “less from an architectural perspective than from a
social or anthropological one.”39 This is seen in his writings and designs that
explore myriad forces, from programs and pragmatism to globalization and
capitalism. Yet throughout this evolution, he has remained steadfast in opposi-
tion of a critical theory worldview, recently commenting that “Frampton is a
smart guy, but the problem is that he looked at regionalism as an antidote to
cosmopolitan development. In doing so he perverted the cause of regionalism,
but suddenly regionalism was mobilized as a private cause that it couldn’t
sustain.”40 For Koolhaas, the inherent problem of criticality is simply not how
he sees the world. Inarguably, he has served as a prominent force in shifting
architecture away from the critical theory beliefs that played a significant role in
the late twentieth century and introduced a way of working that can be
understood to be based in a constructivist paradigm, assembling a wide variety
of perceptions and narratives.
74 The paradigms that ground theorizing

While the post-positivist behavioral science can be seen to have temporarily

dominated thinking in the discipline many decades ago, the paradigms of critical
theories and constructivism have also served as foundations for leading thought in
architecture—especially in recent decades. Yet like behavioral science, these lines
of inquiry never generated work that achieved the status of a “grand theory” in the
discipline. Critical theory gained prominence in its scrutiny of standardization,
introducing important dialogues about tectonics, craft and materials in recent decades.
Recognition of constructivist endeavors occurred in the discipline as structuralism,
phenomenology and other subjectivist inquiries flourished with the influence of
European philosophers. However, neither the work based in critical theory nor the
activities associated with constructivism have been able to develop a convincing
argument that persuades everyone to adopt a particular line of thinking for
architecture, leaving the discipline to continue working in several lines of inquiry.
This way of looking at the discipline may be seen to demonstrate that architects
enjoy many healthy lines of inquiry for design instead of receiving guidance from a
single predominant one. And while all paradigms can be understood to offer significant
perspectives for architecture, they also do not operate as isolated stances. Many
common ideas are shared within the paradigms. For example, objective, post-positivist
views of the environment are often found to align with subjectivist, critical theorist
perspectives that bring ethical or environmental values into the dialogue. While the
distinctions between these lines of inquiry are important to help us understand the
fundamental beliefs on which any theorizing is grounded and the way in which
these clarifications develop, we can see that the paradigms do not create impene-
trable boundaries that make communication difficult between them. Discussions
about and interpretations of theorizing and theorems are able to be understood
from outside the worldview that was used to generate the work. While we are able
to recognize a rich composition of approaches to clarifying and the resulting clarifica-
tions, it is also apparent that these distinctions and relationships include the belief
systems that provide the foundation for the discipline.

The importance of coherency

Navigating a discipline that involves many paradigms means that we work within
an array of beliefs and approaches, yet it also requires that we need to be able to
understand and assess these perspectives if we are to grasp a more complete meaning
of these positions. It is possible for us to communicate among many paradigms
without knowing the underlying views at play—this is a common situation.
However, seeking coherency for our thoughts and actions requires that our
endeavors need to be addressed with a consistency from beginning beliefs to sub-
sequent culminations. Myriad possible beliefs and views may and should be exam-
ined by any inquirer, yet what emerges not only needs to be rational and clear but
also consistent if it is to be a worthwhile endeavor.
One of the difficulties in working within a discipline that engages many worldviews
is that these systems often remain implicit and there is no clear communication
The paradigms that ground theorizing 75

about which one is employed at any particular time. The lack of clarity about the
viewpoint employed may be an indication that these foundations have not yet
been fully explored by a theorist or designer or they simply haven’t been discussed
in a way that notes which belief system is in use. Identifying the paradigm may not
be necessary but is useful if the ideas are to be investigated, furthered and used.
Worldviews are able to be observed and identified through the examination of
theorems for evidence of positions on reality, knowledge and how these are
known. Our studies of any work allow us to disclose worldviews and detect para-
digmatic approaches, reviewing the dialogues and documents for indications of
how the world is perceived. This provides an opportunity for the belief systems to
not only be recognized but critically reflected on, assessing how they operate and
what they offer. With a basic awareness of the differences in perceptions of reality
and knowledge, an individual is able to see how these views affect the understanding
of architecture and advance the direction of the discourse in design.
Additionally, an acceptance of the multitude of belief systems that are at play in
architecture suggests the need for not only tolerance for but also knowledge of all
of these views to gain a more complete picture of the discipline and its work. The
presence of diverse explanations and developments means that it is necessary to be
able to comprehend the variety of understandings of existence and knowledge with
sincerity—beginning to comprehend the range of work in the discipline depends
on thorough and unequivocal respect of all worldviews. It is as if the discipline
requires knowledge of many languages; being fluent in other belief systems enables
an insight to theorizing that would otherwise be perplexing or erroneously inter-
preted. In recognizing the differences, the discipline supports a diversity that
encourages many types of directions and developments.
Paradoxically, one’s review of one’s belief system does not usually occur until at
least one alternative is recognized. Evaluating beliefs often arises only after different
paradigms are presented and there is reflection on the variety of possibilities available.
Identifying the strengths, weaknesses and the promises of each happens when the
systems are viewed in relation to one another. Comparing and contrasting the views
enables us to understand what each offers and which seems to best match the way
in which an individual frames the world. If a person remains unaware or dismisses
the possibility of other worldviews, it may be that his own belief system is not well
known to him or he is unable to explicitly describe it. Operating within a paradigm
does not demand an ability to step outside of that parameter and reflect on it or
other options, so it is easy to understand how many people never question how
they define reality and knowledge. It is only through a comparison of worldviews
that an individual is allowed to see other possibilities and begins to move toward a
critical reflection of the belief system that she employs.
Critical consideration of a worldview is an important event for theorizing
because it establishes the understanding of the world on which an inquirer will
build, advancing work from this belief system. Once the array of possibilities is
known, adopting worldviews on a temporary basis is often attempted to shed light
on what seems to hold accuracy and appeal for a person, as the choice is noted by
76 The paradigms that ground theorizing

Lincoln and Guba to be a “leap of faith.”41 The belief system currently held may
be made explicit and reaffirmed in this process, yet an analysis of all the alternatives
may invite reason for a person to shift to a worldview that offers a more suitable
match for his understandings and holds further potential. For example, such a
substitution can be interpreted in the work of Aldo Rossi, who first explained
architecture through an objective framework that was post-positivist in nature but
later changed to a narrative description that can be seen to be based in a constructivist
worldview. This type of move is not taken lightly, nor is this a common occurrence;
for Rossi, this may or may not have been seen as a shift in worldviews—it is
possible that he perceived it as an extended process of determining a way to
achieve a more accurate description that developed over the years. A switch from
one paradigm to another is an unusual event, yet work of this sort points toward a
reflection of significant depth, involving an exploration of the coherence of one’s
views and how they are best described.


While many individuals never question or discuss how they view reality or
knowledge, there are some who reflect deeply on these topics. Those who do
engage in this reflection are usually able to identify the paradigms they employ
and contrast this with other worldviews, understanding how their belief systems
compare with others. Often, a person sees the world through one paradigm
consistently, yet there is always the possibility of shifting from one paradigm to
another. The architect Aldo Rossi provides insight to such a change. Modernism
and the influence of the sciences on the field of architecture in the 1960s can
be seen to affect the early work of Rossi, who addresses both of these forces in
The Architecture of the City. In this writing, Rossi offers an analysis of the city. He
seems to establish a view that is an objective understanding that can be linked
to a post-positivist approach, stating:

The laws of reality and their modifications thus constitute the structure of
human creation. It is the purpose of this study to organize and order these
principal problems of urban science. The study of these problems in their
totality, with all their implications, returns urban science to the broader
complex of human sciences; but it is in such a framework that I believe that
urban science has its own autonomy (even though in the course of this
study I will often question the nature of that autonomy and its limits as a
science). We can study the city from a number of points of view, but it
emerges as autonomous only when we take it as a fundamental given, as a
construction and as architecture; only when we analyze urban artifacts for
what they are, the final constructed result of a complex operation, taking
into account all of the facts of this operation which cannot be embraced by
the history of architecture, by sociology, or by other sciences. Urban
The paradigms that ground theorizing 77

science, understood in this way, can be seen in its comprehensiveness to

constitute one of the principal chapters in the history of culture.42

Rossi’s reference to the sciences and his desire to organize issues related to the
urban condition show an interest in developing a solid knowledge base about
the city. By employing many sciences and investigating the elements of the
urban environment as objects that can be defined, Rossi works to form a com-
prehensive understanding of the urban environment. The goal of a science of
the city is pursued.
However, the task of an exhaustive and all-encompassing assessment of the
complex built environment is a difficult one—Rossi reflects on the work, noting
that his “interest in quantitative problems and their relationship to qualitative
ones was one of the reasons this book came into being.”43 Achieving a scientific
evaluation that incorporates a variety of aspects not included in other studies as
well as those that are difficult to measure is recognized as an investigation that
may not fit within science. Nevertheless, Rossi pursues such a clarification in an
effort to gain an understanding of the city.
In his investigation, the continual reflections on the nature of the urban
environment evolve, moving from a post-positivist approach to a greater
awareness and inclusion of a constructivist understanding. While his writings
demonstrate a thorough endeavor that attempts to achieve an objective and
comprehensive description of the city, the work also recognizes the role of the
individual in this description. In the introduction for the American edition, Rossi
reflects on the response to the writing fifteen years after it first appeared, stating
that “[p]erhaps, as I said at the beginning, this is the meaning of the archi-
tecture of the city; like the figure in the carpet, the figure is clear but everyone
reads it in a different way. Or rather, the more clear it is, the more open it is to
a complex evolution.”44 A respect for a person’s own perspective is realized to
be critical for Rossi because it is the piece that brings about meaning, becoming
the key to interpreting the built environment.
Rossi reflects on this shift in thinking in A Scientific Autobiography, written in
1981. While the title of the book references a combination of the views that are
involved, the writing expands on the nature of his evolution in the way he
perceives the world. He states:

Around 1960 I wrote The Architecture of the City, a successful book. At that
time, I was not yet thirty years old, and as I have said, I wanted to write a
definitive work: it seemed to me that everything, once clarified, could be
defined. I believed that the Renaissance treatise had to become an apparatus
which could be translated into objects. I scorned memories, and at the
same time, I made use of urban impressions: behind feelings I searched for
the fixed laws of a timeless typology…I read books on urban geography,
topography, and history, like a general who wishes to know every possible
battlefield—the high grounds, the passages, the woods. I walked the cities
78 The paradigms that ground theorizing

of Europe to understand their plans and classify them according to types.

Like a lover sustained by my egotism, I often ignored the secret feelings I
had for those cities; it was enough to know the system that governed

Rossi acknowledges that his attempt to seek out a scientific explanation

suppressed his attention to his personal interpretations of the built environment.
In the end, however, he cannot ignore the influence of his own feelings. He
continues, describing his work as “mixing autobiography and civic history” and
expands on this understanding, offering personal commentary such as:

I could ask myself what “the real” signified in architecture. For example,
might it be a dimensional, functional, stylistic, or technological fact? I could
certainly write a treatise based on such facts.
But instead I think of a certain lighthouse, of a memory and of a
summer. How does one establish the dimensions of these things, and
indeed, what dimensions do they have?46

From this statement and others, it is clear that Rossi embraces a way of seeing
the world that includes the personal histories, contexts and experiences that are
part of constructivism. His recognition of the comprehensive and organizational
nature of science is apparent, and in many ways it still seems to be something
that is respected because of the structure that it can provide. However, it
simply cannot capture the meanings that are seen by Rossi to be such an inte-
gral part of the built environment. His shift from the goal of developing a solid
post-positivist understanding of the city to responding to the role of individual
and collective memory shows a clear and intriguing shift of paradigms.

Taking the time to address coherency within a worldview is vital because in our
pursuit of understanding, we strive to develop a strong and defendable basis for any of
our work. Coherency is sought not only within the worldview that we use but also
between this perspective and our theorizing as well as the production of any piece that
results from this thought process. The consistency indicates an approach that is free of
internal conflicts, which assures us that there is solid reasoning for the basis of any
endeavor. In architecture, this means that our coherent belief systems provide a
foundation for activities of clarifying, which are then able to be employed to dis-
cuss, debate or inform design. Consistency between the lines of inquiry and written
or built manifestations becomes a way of establishing a clear, logical connection of
idea and expression. If an accurate relationship between thought and actions is not
achieved, the outcome can be argued to be superficial or stylistic, referencing a
preference of aesthetics rather than demonstrating coherent substance.
The refrain of “substance over style” is common in design. “Style” is a term that
is frequently used with disdain in design discussions, inferring a decorative
The paradigms that ground theorizing 79

application rather than a substantive execution. While it can describe historical

periods or trends in architecture, “style” is understood in a negative light if it speaks
to a given technique or ready-made response, denoting certain characteristics that
link physical entities. Defined as “a particular procedure by which something is
done; a manner or way,” the term “style” emphasizes a method that has been
established prior to the current development.47 This introduces undesirable con-
notations as any act that involves a predetermined product begs us to question the
process. Utilizing elements that have been decided beforehand raises uncertainty
about the consistency between this work and the theorizing and beliefs that gen-
erate it. As a ready-made product, its presence seems less like a creation of the line
of inquiry and more of a quick substitution that is product-driven rather than
process-oriented. More importantly, there is an insinuation of false claims of cor-
respondence between the theorizing and the resulting form, denoting a final piece
that has little or no connection to the activity that generated it.
Understanding that the term “style” references a form accomplished in a parti-
cular way also insinuates that this predetermined work carries with it the intention
of benefiting from established meanings. While we recognize that specific con-
notations or a formal language are sometimes sought for certain reasons, the ability
to recreate these reasons is difficult, especially when the context continually changes.
For example, “style” can be understood to deliver a sought-after effect such as
buildings designed in the “style” of French Country, Mediterranean, or New
England Colonial, to name a few possibilities. Yet this concentration on the
appearance fails to support the resulting piece with honest theorizing and an
underlying paradigm, making the relationship of design means and ends at odds with
one another. This arbitrary adoption of a product indicates a lack of connection
between the thought process and product. While stylistic responses often intend to
send specific messages, the communication is hollow. In this way, the use of
familiar forms can easily confuse and derail design. This ability to dismantle the
links between thought and form shortchanges the work because it reduces all discussions
to that of form, negating the role of any line of inquiry.48
In contrast to design that attempts to insinuate significance by using familiar
forms, there is also the possibility of employing forms as part of a design language
that purposely has little or no regard for attached meanings. Recognized elements
are used as decoration without any effort to revive the connotations. For example,
Post-Modern architecture enlisted the symbols of ancient architecture. While the
debate centered on reinstituting a larger respect for history and culture through
symbolic communication in the built environment, these messages could also be
interpreted as introducing the ideas of these past cultures. The communication of
the ancient culture is not revived, but overall historical associations are still able to
be made. Although many post-modernists seemed to embrace the term “style,” its
superficiality is easily identifiable in the manifestations of that period.49
Because of the possible ways in which process and product are able to be played
out, paradigms, activities of clarifying and any resulting forms may be investigated
for their coherence. While it is critical to recognize that there is a range of possible
80 The paradigms that ground theorizing

perspectives from which to understand the world, it is also necessary to operate in a

way that advances theorizing that is supported well and outcomes that have clear
associations. By being aware of the consistency between these, lines of inquiry are
strengthened and stylistic traps are avoided.

Recognizing a network of theory in architecture

If we take a step back and reflect on the paradigms that can be identified to be
operating in theorizing and observe them as perspectives or frameworks, we are
able to see that there are many at play in architecture. They are coherent, infor-
mative ways of seeing. Altogether, however, they form a body that includes
conflicting beliefs and values. Rather than choosing between them, we can take
the opportunity to recognize all—even if these coherent entities are incompatible
as a whole. Richard Rorty’s proposal of seeing how everything “hangs together”
provides a way for this to occur.50 Rather than portraying this situation as one in
which we are forced to choose between these understandings and limit our
possible modes of conceiving of theory, we are able to see all of these perspec-
tives as contributing to a larger, more descriptive explanation of the subject.
Allowing these perspectives to “hang together” creates a rich and complex over-
arching view. While there may be conflicts, we learn more from the inclusion of all
the perspectives, identifying connections and contrasts within all the possibilities.
Both the array of paradigms and the perspectives within them constitute this
The different paradigms can be imagined as different lines of inquiry that form
the basis of this network—each establishes a framework for a line of inquiry parti-
cular to its assumptions and operations. A post-positivist approach involves the
beliefs that a real world can be tested, establishing an accurate knowledge basis.
This works alongside a critical theorist view in which the world is comprehended
to be shaped by values. The constructivist approach offers another subjectivist view,
yet one in which experiences, places and understandings are assimilated to compose a
reality. While these paradigms are distinct from one another and operate differently,
it is still possible to conceive of an arrangement in which they are associated with
one another to form a network. Views and information can overlap, developing a
system that links together as a constellation of understandings.
Such a formation becomes a basis that can be extended to capture more specific
individual lines of inquiry in this arrangement. Like capillaries in an arterial system,
different perspectives within the larger paradigms can be envisioned as creating a
number of variations of the lines of inquiries that constitute the network. Such
variations may be different views within one paradigm; for example, a critical
theory that employs values of a political kind forms a view that is distinguished
from one that employs values that are based on gender issues. If we imagine this
as a kind of abstract web of connections, these lines of inquiry may be more
closely associated with one another than they are to a line of inquiry that is more
constructivist in nature but there are likely to be some links between all of them.
The paradigms that ground theorizing 81

FIGURE 2.4 While a person only operates from one paradigm, it is possible to acknowledge
all of them and benefit from this larger network of understanding.

The differences within this formation may be seen as different kinds of framing,
establishing views from a variety of positions such as politics or gender. Other
variations may also be identified by the different ways these perspectives are
looking—for example, one post-positivist view may look at material conditions
while another examines human comfort. These investigations may be similar but
they are not the same, creating smaller variations in the lines of inquiry. In this
light, the network becomes quite complex with many distinctions as well as
points of connections.
The ability to conceive of a network of possible perspectives enables us to benefit
from many ways of understanding and operating. While our activities of theorizing
demand that we develop our work in a coherent manner, our awareness of the
diversity of options for how we are able to approach our work and the wide array
of knowledge that these options provide establish a rich and well-informed situa-
tion. We can build from the strongest and most intriguing understandings, seeing
things from different perspectives, and weave together solid and compelling lines of
inquiry for our works. We can identify various links and disconnects, recognizing
how areas and activities relate and cluster. The possibilities provided by an over-
arching view of these perspectives helps us to understand the work that has been
accomplished and better focus our work from this basis, which in turn supports its
continued development.

1 Yvonna S. Lincoln and Egon Guba, “Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research,” in
Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln
(Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1994), 107.
2 Specifically, I am referring to an argument found in the introduction of Richard Rorty’s
Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays: 1972–1980) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota,
1982), xiii–xlvii.
82 The paradigms that ground theorizing

3 Sarah Whiting, “Whiting and Gang in Conversation,” in Building/Inside Studio Gang

Architects, eds. Jeanne Gang and Zoë Ryan (Chicago: Studio Gang Architects, 2012), 160.
4 Whiting, “Whiting and Gang in Conversation,” 158–9.
5 Whiting, “Whiting and Gang in Conversation,” 159.
6 Whiting, “Whiting and Gang in Conversation,” 168.
7 Whiting, “Whiting and Gang in Conversation,” 169.
8 Lincoln and Guba, “Competing Paradigms,” 108–16.
9 These four paradigms are outlined by Lincoln and Guba in their chapter titled
“Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research” in the first edition of the Handbook of
Qualitative Research. In subsequent editions, the constructivist paradigm is now also
understood to offer a collective perspective; however, the foundation these original four
establish and the amount of succeeding work based on them provide reason to discuss
these four rather than later revisions.
10 Karl Raimund Popper discusses the perfection of this paradigm in “Of Clouds and
Clocks: An Approach to the Problem of Rationality and the Freedom of Man,” the
Arthur Holly Compton Memorial Lecture presented at Washington University, April
21, 1965 (St. Louis: Washington University, 1966).
11 Popper, “Of Clouds and Clocks.”
12 Popper, “Of Clouds and Clocks.”
13 Paisley Livingston, Literary Knowledge: Humanistic Inquiry and the Philosophy of Science
(Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988), 18.
14 These ideas are based on the teachings of William Widdowson, whose seminars in the
Master of Science in Architecture program at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati,
Ohio between 1991 and 1993 greatly influenced the development of this book.
15 Richard Rorty notes that Wilfrid Sellars discusses philosophy as “an attempt to see how
things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together, in the broadest possible
sense of the term,” in Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays: 1972–1980), xiv.
16 In Creating Architectural Theory (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987), Jon Lang
discusses the failures of Pruitt Igoe, the St. Louis public housing project designed by
Isomu Noguchi, built in 1960 and partially demolished in 1972. While the reasons for the
demise of the project are complex, Lang sees the failure as a referendum on Modernism’s
lack of understanding human behavior.
17 While the promise of this paradigm helped move design schools to offer degrees in
environmental science, Bill Hillier, John Musgrove and Pat O’Sullivan presented a paper
entitled “Knowledge and Design” at the 1972 EDRA Conference (EDRA3/1972, 29-
3-1 to 29-3-14), advancing the idea that more information did not ensure better design
and the analysis-synthesis process may not be how design is accomplished.
18 Glenn Murcutt, “Glenn Murcutt Lecture,” Union Ballroom, University of Arkansas,
Fayetteville, AR, April 3, 2009.
19 Maryam Gusheh, Tom Heneghan, Catherine Lassen and Shoko Seyama, The Architecture
of Glenn Murcutt (Tokyo, Japan: Nobuyuki Endo, 2008), 14–15.
20 Phil Harris and Adrian Welke, “Glenn Murcutt’s a Top Bloke (But a Crazy Driver),”
Architecture Australia, May/June 2002, 83.
21 Haig Beck and Jackie Cooper, Glenn Murcutt: A Singular Architectural Practice (Victoria,
Australia: The Images Publishing Group, 2002), 14.
22 Beck and Cooper, Glenn Murcutt, 15.
23 Beck and Cooper, Glenn Murcutt, 17.
24 Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds, Handbook of Qualitative Research
(Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 1994), 107.
25 Dolores Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing and Family Life, rev.
and expanded (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), 30.
26 Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream, 10.
27 Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream, 28–9.
28 Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1978), 6.
The paradigms that ground theorizing 83

29 Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 6.

30 Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 7.
31 Ana Miljacki, Amanda Reeser Lawrence and Ashley Schafer, “2 Architects 10 Questions
on Program Rem Koolhaas + Bernard Tschumi,” Praxis 8, ed. Amanda Reeser Lawrence
and Ashley Schafer (Columbus, Ohio: Praxis, Inc., 2006), 10.
32 Miljacki, “2 Architects,” 11.
33 Ellen Dunham-Jones, “The Irrational Exuberance of Rem Koolhaas,” Places Journal,
April 2013.
34 K. Michael Hays, “Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form,” Perspecta 21,
1984, 14–29.
35 George Baird notes in “‘Criticality’ and Its Discontents” in Harvard Design Magazine 21
(F/W 2004).
contents, Beth Kapusta’s documentation of Koolhaas’ public statement about criticality
in The Canadian Architect Magazine 39, August 1994, 10.
36 Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting, “Notes Around the Doppler Effect and Other
Moods of Modernism,” Perspecta 33, 2002.
37 Michael Speaks, “Design Intelligence and the New Economy,” Architectural Record, January
38 Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 6, and Rem Koolhaas, “Bigness, or the Problem of the
Large,” OMA, Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S, M, L, XL (New York: Monacelli
Press, 1995), 494–516.
39 Andrew MacKenzie, “Batik, Beinnale and the Death of the Skyscraper. Interview with
Rem Koolhaas,” The Architectural Review, 24 February 2014. http://www.architectural-
40 MacKenzie, “Batik, Beinnale and the Death of the Skyscraper.”
41 Lincoln and Guba, “Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research,” 107.
42 Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press,
1982), 22.
43 Rossi, The Architecture of the City, 21.
44 Rossi, The Architecture of the City, 19
45 Aldo Rossi, A Scientific Autobiography (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1981),
46 Rossi, A Scientific Autobiography, 19 and 24, respectively.
47 “Style.” Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddictionaries.
48 In Changing Ideals of Modern Architecture: 1750–1950, 2nd edn (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s
University Press, 1998), 40–1, Peter Collins addresses this in his observation of the
invention of history, noting that designers now had the potential to look at the past and
choose between eras for their work; however, this introduces a dilemma as this choice has
ethical implications.
49 Specifically, I am referring to Robert A.M. Stern’s “New Directions in Modern Archi-
tecture: Postscript at the Edge of the Millennium” in Kate Nesbitt’s Theorizing a New
Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965–1995 (New York:
Princeton Architectural Press, 1995), 100–8. This text freely employs the term “style”
and offers Post-Modernism as such.
50 Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays: 1972–1980) (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1982), xvi.

Exploring theory by studying its composition is a basic step in starting to compre-
hend it, and examining its elements, characteristics and foundational paradigms
begins to accomplish this. Yet it is also possible to learn a great deal about theory
by investigating its place as one among many subjects that constitute architecture.
Looking at the associations that theory has with different subjects in the field
enables us to see the role it assumes as well as beginning to grasp the nature of its
relationships to these other subjects, providing insight about the realms that each
addresses and how they interact. While there are many beneficial understandings
that are able to be realized from this approach, one of the most basic is that the
subject of theory can be broadly described in two ways: either it is understood to be
contained within other subjects because it is able to be identified in the explanation
of the subject, or it is perceived as a subject in its own right. Recognizing the
ability to realize it in both these conditions not only differentiates theory but also
allows us to address its unique place in design.
If we identify theory within other subjects, we recognize that it is possible for it
to be a part of everything from structures to aesthetics as the content of each subject
is typically communicated through an organized explanation. In other words, the
material is often shared or presented in an ordered fashion, which relays a particular
view of it. It is possible to see such an approach as theoretical in nature because of
the ability of this explanation to not provide just an array of material but also clarify the
subject. References such as “color theory” or texts such as “Theory of Structures”
go beyond vague indications and make a clear connection between theory and the
specific material as they communicate the information in a deliberate way.1 These
discussions about topics usually unfold in a fashion that has some logic or control
and can be seen to take on particular perspectives. Subjects are not simply a loose
The place of theory in the discipline 85

grouping of miscellaneous data but are typically described with a coherent and
thoughtful approach. The organizations aim to introduce or employ a framework
for understanding the material, which we will see is able to be associated with
Livingston’s “line of inquiry.” In this light, the subject of theory can be perceived
to play a critical role in other subjects in the discipline.
In addition, the subject of theory can be identified yet again in specific instances
within subjects as these may be understood to include—even largely consist of—
theorems that capture small but critical explanations about content and methods.
That is, rules and formulas used commonly throughout the discipline are theorems that
are continually referenced, tested and revised as needed. This is seen in investigations
of structures that are communicated through fundamental principles about the
strength of materials and systems or rules about environmental controls that relay
the most recent developments in regulating building comfort. These theorems can
be grouped and categorized to stand as explanations that are able to be relied on
and are representative of the best clarifications available currently, but there is
always the understanding that these theorems are studied with an eye toward
improvement. While these smaller activities of theorizing can be distinguished from
the theorizing that provides an overview of a subject, they operate as a family of
clarifications as they employ a similar line of inquiry. Understanding that theorizing
is able to be detected within subjects recognizes the distinct role that the subject of
theory is able to play. The presence of theory in other subjects often remains
overlooked but our ability to see it demonstrates a pervasiveness and influence that
is important to grasping it.
While theorizing and theorems are able to be identified within other topics, our
most common understanding of the subject of theory in architecture is as an
accepted body of work in its own right. As its own subject, our ordinary conception
of theory references explanatory perspectives that attempt to clarify design in a
comprehensive manner rather than only attending to limited scopes of concern.
Theory may even be accurately characterized as an attempt to provide the best
overall clarification of architecture, or at least a clarification that offers something of
note or significance. By understanding theory in architecture as clarifications that
speak to general, overarching views of the discipline, a broad and inclusive
approach to this subject is established. This perspective introduces relationships to a
number of topics that can be seen to have this similar breadth. History, design and
criticism have comparable approaches and roles in the discipline, taking on activities
such as explaining, reasoning and contemplating design undertakings with a wider
perspective in mind. While the specific tasks of these subjects may be arguably
distinct, there are close relationships between them. Exploring these sheds light on not
only the subjects themselves but also the entire network of subjects within the field.
Specifically, distinctions and similarities identified between theory and topics
such as history, design and criticism allow us to comprehend vital connections and
interactions, grasping the roles of each along with why and how they operate with
one another. To this point, discussions such as this one seem to support a perception
that architecture is composed of a collection of independent subjects that are clearly
86 The place of theory in the discipline

FIGURE 3.1 Theory, history, design, criticism and manifestoes have many similarities,
creating interconnected relationships rather than a series of separate and
distinct subjects.

distinguishable from one another. Yet these areas should not be thought of as isolated
and able to be individually contained because the contents of these areas overlap in a
wide variety of combinations. While it is typically assumed that theories are clarifica-
tions, histories are documentations of past events, design is an activity that proposes
changes and criticism reviews this work, it can also be understood that histories can
be viewed as critiques, theories can be tested in designs and the process of design
involves criticism. With this understanding along with the understanding that
theory can be identified throughout a wide range of subjects, the complexity of
these relationships becomes apparent. There is always a tendency to cast each of these
subjects as bodies that have some autonomy, but the idea that they are separate
entities with strict boundaries existing between them is a misleading one. Examining
these areas in light of one another not only allows their purposes and roles to be
understood in relation to one another but also discloses their connections and
intersections. Their parameters may be blurred, but the recognition of differences
provides a way to better comprehend the subjects. An assessment of this type
establishes new insight about how the subject of theory is able to be recognized
and operate in the discipline.


Writings often combine a variety of contents and messages. Some begin as one
kind of activity, but shift to engage another. While we realize that there are not
definitive boundaries that separate different activities, it is not impossible to
The place of theory in the discipline 87

imagine that one document can include a wide variety of them. Architect
Robert Venturi mixes a criticism, a manifesto, a theorem and a history in his
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, yet connects them in a way that
advances a strong perspective. Each of these endeavors that is part of this work
is identified by Venturi, acknowledging their different goals.
At the beginning of the publication, Venturi links practice to criticism
through T.S. Eliot’s understanding that creation is as much critical work as it is
creative.2 He describes the publication, stating that it is:

both an attempt at architectural criticism and an apologia—an explanation,

indirectly, of my work. Because I am a practicing architect, my ideas on
architecture are inevitably a by-product of the criticism which accompanies
working…I write, then, as an architect who employs criticism rather than a
critic who chooses architecture and this book represents a particular set of
emphases, a way of seeing architecture, which I find valid.3

This characterization of the work immediately frames the perspective he

shares, suggesting it to be no more than a practitioner who has a particular
way of seeing, critical of his surroundings. His criticism is aimed at the ways in
which Modernism constricted the built environment, at the level of both
individual buildings and the larger context. He is interested in addressing
what he sees as the shortcomings of the dominant approach to the built
environment through discussions of what a richer, more meaningful architecture
can provide.
Although he frames this work as a critique, he quickly moves toward an
explanation of how he works and what he likes. He justifies his preferences,
commenting that “[a]s an artist I frankly write about what I like in architecture:
complexity and contradiction. From what we find we like—what we are easily
attracted to—we can learn much of what we really are.”4
With this basis, Venturi introduces a discussion of his own views about
architecture. Clearly, it is a public expression of his personal agenda, or a
manifesto. He recognizes this by labeling his first chapter “1. Nonstraightfor-
ward Architecture: A Gentle Manifesto.”5 His interests are individual and shape
the way in which he understands architecture. He states:

I like complexity and contradiction in architecture. I do not like the inco-

herence or arbitrariness of incompetent architecture nor the precious intri-
cacies of picturesqueness or expressionism. Instead, I speak of a complex
and contradictory architecture based on the richness and ambiguity of
modern experience…
I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning; for the
implicit function as well as the explicit function. I prefer “both-and” to
“either-or,” black and white, and sometimes gray, to black or white…
88 The place of theory in the discipline

But an architecture of complexity and contradiction has a special obligation

toward the whole: its truth must be in its totality or its implications of
totality. It must embody the difficult unity of inclusion rather than the
easy unity of exclusion. More is not less.6

Of interest in these statements is the unequivocal nature of his explanation for

why complex and contradictory architecture appeals to him. Entitling this as a
manifesto communicates his acknowledgement of the personal agenda
attached to this view. As a manifesto, it is a view that he believes and pursues,
and because it is shared in this format he is not only able to explain his work
but also to introduce a way of seeing which others may be able to understand,
appreciate and adopt.
The idea of the work serving as a theorem and a history is not directly dis-
cussed by Venturi until the second edition is published in 1977, eleven years
after the first edition. Venturi explains, stating:

I wrote this book in the early 1960’s as a practicing architect responding to

aspects of architectural theory and dogma of that time. The issues are
different now, and I think the book might be read today for its general
theories about architectural form but also as a particular document of its
time, more historical than topical.7

The content of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is recognized to

include a particular way of seeing that includes hallmarks of a theorem—the
ideas shared are general and abstract as they are applicable throughout history
and across cultures. The view offers a new way of understanding the built
environment, identifying patterns including those that Venturi refers to as the
“both-and” and the “double-functioning element.”8 These and the other
observations that are discussed advance a way of reading architecture that
brings a new clarity to form that falls largely outside the Modernist realm,
expressive in its composition. Simultaneously, the account also provides a
reading of history. The examples span the centuries and establish a new
appreciation for the work, making us look again at this context.
Interestingly, Venturi’s penchant for seeing the complex and the contra-
dictory is identified not only in his view of architecture but also in how his
discussions of it are seen. Able to be interpreted as a criticism, a manifesto, a
theorem and a history, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture provides a
document that is able to serve many purposes at once. The writing can be
understood and explained in numerous ways, establishing a rich perspective of
how a critique, a personal agenda, a clarification and an assessment of the past
can converge in one body of work. The text is able to be framed differently by
readers, informing and aiding their understandings through focusing on a
particular approach.
The place of theory in the discipline 89

While the relationships between theory and history, design and criticism seem
readily apparent, manifestoes and other writings also link to the subject. Discussions
regarding these relationships disclose another dimension that helps extend our
comprehension of theory. In particular, manifestoes include explicit personal
agendas that can focus on or stress accurate views in order to make an argument.
Almost as intriguing as manifestoes are miscellaneous documents that are often
offered or categorized as theory, yet these works fail to demonstrate theorizing or
advance a theorem. Interestingly, these works are able to be contrasted with writings
such as steel manuals and environmental system texts that offer tested theorems
employed every day in the profession. All of these examinations work together to
bring attention to what a more accurate understanding of the subject of theory
may be. Beginning with the subject of history, it is possible to develop such a view.

Theory and history

The relationship of theory and history

The role of history is generally considered to be the documentation and communica-
tion of information about the past, which equips designers with an understanding
of factual knowledge about spaces and forms as well as the thought that guides this
development. It is the range of play between the informational data and its framing
that becomes a critical aspect for history. Novices may perceive that the subject
offers a neutral presentation of data, but the material under discussion is typically
compiled in a manner that includes reasons why and how the past occurred in a
particular way. This necessarily involves interpretation because the reasons are
selected by the historian, which then becomes an explanation that connects closely
to the subject of theory. In other words, it is possible to recognize that historians take
on thorough investigations and analytical assessments in translating information,
supporting the idea that they have diligently examined the object of their study.
However, even the simple use of particular language to describe the facts has the
ability to change perceptions of the past, without even beginning to discuss the role of
the historian’s values. Acknowledging this aspect of history begins to disclose the
strength of the connections between history and theory.

Defining history
If we attempt to limit the description of the term “history” for the purpose of
exploring its relation to the subject of theory, we find that even the most basic of
definitions introduces considerable reflection because of the nature of its content. A
typical understanding of the subject explains it as “a written narrative constituting a
continuous chronological record of important or public events (esp. in a particular
place) or of a particular trend, institution, or person’s life.”9 This definition shows
that history includes the combination of the ideas such as “record” and “narrative,”
working together to compose the subject. While the notion of history as a record
90 The place of theory in the discipline

is one characterization, the other suggestion of history as a narrative or story provides

what appears to imply a different understanding. Depending on the emphasis, it is
clear that the subject includes a wide range of possible interpretations. By beginning
with an investigation of the conception of history as offering a straightforward
record of evidence, we can work toward establishing an understanding of the
breadth and composition of this subject.
Perceiving history as a set of factual data allows us to entertain whether or not
the entire subject could be constituted by a collection of individual bits of infor-
mation. It is obvious that certain material is critical to the subject, as the aim of
history is to identify people, things, places, dates and statistics, but it is also obvious
that this information is always connected or structured in some way, helping us make
sense of it. If we attempt to construct an approach that eliminates these connec-
tions, we are left with a history that is no more than a list of data unaccompanied
by reasoning or background material. Conceiving of the subject in such a form
may appear to come closest to achieving a body of factual content that is direct and
impartial; however, the selection of what data are and are not included needs to be
recognized in the shaping of any historical account or record. In this way, what
seems to be the most straightforward information is consciously or unconsciously
shaped because it includes or excludes particular material. Any assembly of data can
be seen as a narrative.
If we move the focus of the exploration of history from data to narrative, we can
begin to identify how the connections and descriptions play a significant role in
shaping this subject. To understand the evolution, it is possible to examine how
history evolved as a subject. The idea that events are able to be documented in
respect to time is a relatively recent development in the history of civilization. In
Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture, 1750–1950, architectural historian Peter
Collins notes that Greek scholars were interested in what was “permanent and
immutable” rather than the changing nature of history, the Romans studied the
past for merely political knowledge and medieval scholars viewed history “entirely
in terms of the Divine Plan.”10 In these societies, history was not seen as an episodic
report that was recognized as its own body of work—its purpose was to furnish
lessons. History as a chronological record was even equated to poetry in the early
part of the eighteenth century and not taught as its own body of knowledge until
decades later. A comprehensive account of happenings was not a critical perspective
to have, although there existed an understanding of what had come before.
Out of all the ancient perspectives, it is the medieval view that established
the foundation of our current conceptions of history, even without the ability of
this population to grasp the effects of chronology. Collins notes that this
feudal era was able to “introduce two concepts into historiography which were
to affect historical thought in the period with which we are concerned: one was
the notion of historical periods, the other was the idea that the past and the
future form some sort of intelligible sequential pattern of events.”11 These two
suggestions change the impression of history dramatically. By identifying all of
time to be composed of periods, the past is seen as a body divided into
The place of theory in the discipline 91

experiences that are able to be grouped around ideas. These eras may be seen to
link together, connecting the individual pieces into a larger composition, or
With history commonly understood as a narrative that explains discrete but
connected eras, the medieval model developed in the eighteenth century is the
perception of history that survived. This view of the past suggests that the shaping
of the built environment can be conveyed through chronological accounts. The
work is consciously organized, with explanations that give reasons for both the
eras and their evolutions. We can organize the eras differently by identifying and
responding to different data, creating a number of narratives that explain the past
according to the data that is recognized. In contrast to this view, however, there
is also another possibility for comprehending the history of architecture: an
understanding that building is able to happen through unreflective acts. Design
activity may occur without overt organization or comprehension—when build-
ings are built, they are not necessarily understood as happening within an era or
as part of a larger agenda that defines an era. Architectural historian John Han-
cock describes this as tradition, distinguishing it from history by recognizing the
differences between “the singularity and plurality” in these approaches and “the
closed and open range” of these views.12 In other words, tradition continues a
specific or singular way of working while history has the option of the entire
range that is known. Tradition is an activity that is accepted without question,
operating as the only possibility envisioned; history, on the other hand, has
available many examples that are described and differentiated through a reflective
and conscientious organization. Tradition captures the past in one narrative, while
history offers many.
If we still operated without an awareness of the different ways of approaching
design as witnessed in various locations or over time, it is possible that our work
would be shaped by tradition and occur without uncertainty or deliberation. It
may evolve slowly over decades, but our singular understanding of the past would
lead to an unquestioned future, dominated largely by one narrative. Such traditional
architecture is often described as a vernacular, continuing to build customs without
debating other possibilities. These traditions still exist today, identifiable in every-
thing from construction methods to design responses. While it can be argued that it
is possible to teach traditions, this misses the idea that these conventions employ
implicit understandings that are acquired through acculturation and firsthand
experience—it is simply a way of working that does not involve conscious choices.
In this view, teaching traditions becomes an oxymoron. While tradition provides a
rich potential, its limitations are obvious. Hancock notes the stability of a tradition
yet also identifies the shortcomings, explaining:

Pure traditions are cultural forms passed down orally between generations.
They cannot be history, being unavailable across temporal or geographic dis-
tance, or in variety. Knowledge is present only in the immediate past, the
adjacent generation, or (in architecture) in the accumulated townscape.13
92 The place of theory in the discipline

As a singular, closed system, tradition does not allow the opportunity to see outside
a particular vision. Changes that are made happen incrementally, slowly adapting
the accepted practices. Any comparison with diverse possibilities is not an option to
be considered. The narrative is not only set and undisputed but something that is
undetected because those who operate in a tradition are immersed within this
account. No comprehension of another system is perceived.
Introducing the idea of understanding an entire body of work with distinguishable
eras creates a shift of monumental proportions. History has the ability to capture
and label periods of time to support a larger, overarching view of events divisible into
different components. Summarizing content into representative themes attempts to
document the essence of each era as well as present a broad perspective of the
varieties of work found throughout history. While this type of view can be effective
for obtaining a more inclusive and comparative understanding, this fundamentally
changes our perception of the past because it not only modifies the discipline from one
narrative to many but also introduces the possibility of a meta-narrative that holds all
these accounts together. That is, each era can be summarized, seeing the work in a
particular perspective. It is possible to define and differentiate one era from others. In
turn, these eras are able to be woven together in one all-encompassing understanding
of the entirety of the built environment. Such an approach to history interprets and
frames the events in a certain light, constructing a narrative about the past.
It can be argued that various narratives have always been in operation within the
discipline, even with traditional approaches. Built forms of ancient civilizations
include expressions that did not always follow vernacular methods, as noted with
the presence of the caryatids at the Erechtheum.14 It is also possible to understand
that seeing history as a repository of ideas or lessons instead of a sequence of eras is
still viable and allows for different perspectives to exist without having to under-
stand it as a chronological set of events. For example, it may be claimed that
knowledge about material joinery in the traditions of certain cultures is able to be
identified, perceiving material connections in a specific way. However, the differ-
ence between tradition and history in design is that tradition does not acknowledge
the presence of a narrative because a person is absorbed in it, leaving him unable to
perceive its confinement as well as be aware of other possibilities. Because there is
no opportunity to see alternatives, there is no ability to have a larger understanding
of the entire series of perspectives, or a meta-view of the past. An understanding of
architecture that includes a view of historical eras and its sequence is able to see this
framework and has the flexibility of moving from one perspective to another.
Once we step outside the limitations of a traditional view, the possibility of
many narratives as well as a meta-narrative is available. The breadth of history
includes a multitude of perspectives, which allows for versions of the environment
that not only describe the existing situations but begin to set a framework for
imagining others as well. The importance of this shift in understanding is under-
scored by Collins, who notes: “But once history was divided into periods, these led
the way to a division of architecture into styles. Once history was thought of as
apocalyptic, it tempted architectural historians to become theorists, and to try to
The place of theory in the discipline 93

determine the future as well as the past.”15 For Collins, historians are no longer
simply concerned with documentation about the past but now have the ability to
conjecture about possible interpretations of the built environment, perceiving
architecture and the world through a lens of their particular making.

Connections between theory and history

The claim that historians are able to be theorists because of their ability to look at a
chronological account of the built world and offer new interpretations—especially
ones that hypothesize about the future—begins to shed light on the connections
between history and theory. But it is not the predictive nature of this work that
necessarily links the two. The crux of the connection is that both subjects employ a
way of seeing, assembling information about the built environment to propose
different interpretations. Through this, both historians and theorists have the ability
to advance a number of explanations. Seeing the breadth of what has happened as a
field of possible readings instead of being limited to a single understanding opens
opportunities for a wide variety of descriptions that are useful for aiding the com-
prehension of both previous and present situations. This flexibility includes the use
of different worldviews, recognizing that different belief systems introduce different
readings of the built environment, events, institutions and individuals.
Yet a comparison of history and theory shows that these subjects also involve
some critical distinctions. If we return to our fundamental definitions for each
subject, we recognize that both history and theory employ perspectives in an
exploration and explanation of architecture, but the purposes and outcomes for
employing these perspectives differ. In the realm of history, perspectives operate as
narratives because they connect specific information to develop reasoned descriptions
and logical versions of the past; within theory, perspectives operate as lines of inquiry
because they are specific ways of approaching or thinking about issues or situations.
Simply stated, the narratives of history weave together data and describe the past to
provide a specific and conclusive interpretation while the lines of inquiry in theory
pursue a particular view to consider clarifications. History involves looking at what
has happened and offering accounts of this past while theory engages in advancing a
way of clarifying, ready to propose an interpretation and test its accuracy. Both are a
way of seeing, yet these ways differ in their purpose and use.
If history can be understood through such a lens, a question about whether or
not the subject of theory incorporates the entire subject of history needs to be
raised. In our explanation of theory, the activity of clarifying is a critical aspect as it
provides a way to advance new understandings. By this definition, any account of
history that offers an original view of the past may also be seen as a part of theory
in architecture. If the narrative operates as such a line of inquiry, it actually works with
two purposes as it proposes a clarification that is also the description of a historical
situation. This condition can be seen to be met by many historical works, which
may be understood as theorems addressing the past of the built environment.
However, not all historical accounts are necessarily theorems, and some accounts
94 The place of theory in the discipline

may be more explicit in their intent to clarify than others. The possible combinations
of history and theory manifest in a range of works that are able to be positioned
between these two subjects.
An examination of this range can start with those works that appear to be more
about history than theory. It should be no surprise that not all chronological
accounts advance new clarifications. There is a great deal of histories that simply
relay information without citing new viewpoints—their purpose is to communicate
information about the past. In addition, we see many reports of historical infor-
mation attempting to provide a plethora of data accompanied by only a minimal
amount of interpretation. These descriptions focus on delivering factual information
in lieu of relaying possible causes or readings. Such accounts of history may be
identified in sources such as Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture or A History
of Western Architecture by David Watkin.16 While Fletcher’s book contains infor-
mation on geography, geology, climate, religions and societies, the work centers on
what may be considered important structures of the past. Construction dates,
builders, materials and elaborate descriptions—including plans, elevations, sections
and details—document the works. Watkin’s writing also offers an account of the
forces that influence the history of building activities, yet again the emphasis is on a
deep explanation of the works. While these two volumes are organized by definitive
perspectives, we are able to see that they concentrate on relaying the data on the
built environment, focusing on the information rather than providing a narrative, and
not actively or explicitly engaged in advancing a line of inquiry.
However, it is still important for us to remember that even what appears to be
an innocent sharing of factual material can be questioned in regards to the per-
spective it shares. While descriptions may strive for neutrality and work to present
data that is unencumbered with influences, the documents engage more than facts
because everything from their organizations to their selection of content presents
implicit perspectives. The material may seem straightforward as dates mark events,
buildings are measured and described, and the actions of people and institutions are
noted, but the way in which the material is categorized and even the decisions
about which structures are included communicates a particular view of the past. As
seen in the definition of the term “history,” a narrative is always a part of com-
municating any past. It is also possible that theorizing can be identified if the
description offers a new clarification, advancing an original reading on the material.
Even a focus that is slightly different from any existing interpretation of the built
environment supports the possibility of becoming not only a narrative but also
operating as a line of inquiry. Being cognizant of the ability for any historical
account to also be understood as theoretical is always a consideration.
Many historical works embrace their narrative role yet additionally can be
understood to offer quiet but powerful theorems. These pieces are comprised of
content that is shared as historical work because they focus on communicating
specific information about the past. Because the material is new or assembled in a
unique manner, it can also be seen to operate as a theorem. For example, Katherine
Wentworth Rinne’s The Waters of Rome: Aqueducts, Fountains, and the Birth of
The place of theory in the discipline 95

the Baroque City offers many new insights about the history of Rome, including the
hypothesis that the watermarks left on the buildings after floods provided elevation
information, which advances a theorem about how ancient hydrological engi-
neering may have been undertaken.17 The observation that the basic understanding
of elevations could be surmised through geometry and rudimentary surveying
provided a way to explain the successful design of a system of fountains. Such
acknowledgement of the theoretical nature of descriptions provides a way of
recognizing the connections of history and theory rather than trying to create an
invisible boundary between them.


Histories are commonly understood as descriptive texts developed through
extensive research of ancient documents and accounts, including examinations
of traditional customs and methods as well as deep investigations of the context
of the time. While information is able to be obtained through a wide variety of
means, the historian also brings a particular view to the material. Framing the
information becomes an endeavor aided by not only a solid grasp of the data
but also the ability to comprehend the nature of a past situation, which can
lead to theorizing about past events. Katherine Wentworth Rinne demonstrates
this type of explanation in The Waters of Rome: Aqueducts, Fountains and the
Birth of the Baroque City when she proposes a way in which ancient Romans
could have determined water levels throughout the city. This proposal is able to
be seen as a theorem as well as an historical account because the perspective
she introduces works to bring new clarity to the situation.
Rinne’s knowledge of the history of water in Rome is grounded in years of
studying the city, including time spent investigating ancient records, reading
early texts and interpreting antique maps as well as exploring Rome to identify
the urban artifacts that remain as evidence. Her work compiles the findings,
sorting and assembling them to construct a thorough and sophisticated
description of the past. At times, the entirety of the evidence seems to support
certain scenarios, yet the possibility of other explanations cannot be ruled out.
In this light, Rinne advances the material and notes the potential connections
without claiming that the account forwarded is known with certainty. This is
reflected in her discussion of the possibility of establishing water levels
throughout the city from flood records. Rinne states:

Several markers were available that recorded Rome’s most notable recent
floods—at least nine markers for the 1495 flood, nine for the 1530 flood
(the highest yet recorded in Rome), and three for the 1557 flood—and
nearly all of them were situated within the Vergine distribution area. These
included three inscriptions (one from each of the floods) that had been
affixed to the façade of the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva…and
96 The place of theory in the discipline

another inscription from 1530 located in Piazza del Popolo. Using simple
geometry and standard surveying instruments, it would have been a
straightforward task to gauge the difference in elevation between the level
of the water as it fell from the main channel at the Trevi Fountain and any
nearby marker, or even to stains still seen in Piazza di Trevi. Slightly more
difficult, yet entirely possible, would be to measure the difference between,
for example, the marker for the 1530 flood placed at the corner of Via del
Corso and Via Otto Cantone or the one at Piazza del Popolo and the
operational level of the water at the castello at San Sebastianello. In fact,
the level of water in the castello exceeded the 1530 flood line by about
seventy-five centimeters, a difference that could be easily extrapolated for
use in the specific locations chosen for fountain sites, where stains and
scripts might also still exist…
The beauty of this intuitive method is that it allowed dell a Porta to
understand the flood line as a constant. Against this regulating line the
ground plan on which he walked and on which his fountains would stand
could be seen to rise and fall.18

From this discussion of recorded water heights, we become aware of not only the
numerous documents that have been assembled to develop this description but
also the way in which it is possible to theorize about historical events. The references
to the flood markers in the various locations in the city, the knowledge of capabilities
of the ancient tools that were in use, and the documents regarding the fountain
placements are all combined to construct a logical version of determining water
levels across the city. While Rinne weaves together a wide variety of data to sup-
port a convincing view of an approach to hydrology in ancient Rome, she does
not present it in a way that suggests this interpretation is the only possible one.
It is at this point that Rinne operates as a theorist, linking all of this information
to establish a deep narrative and advance a viewpoint that explains how this
work may have been accomplished. She makes sense of the situation, clarifying
the historical circumstances and presenting a perspective that is logical because
of the supporting evidence. Her theorizing about determining water levels in
ancient Rome is able to shed new light on a situation, advancing a way of
understanding that provides a rational understanding through gathering
dependable information and applying knowledgeable reflection.
This passage also establishes a greater understanding for the connection
between history and theory as well as the active role that historians assume.
Many aspects of the past cannot be simply confirmed but are constructed with
a great deal of research and reflection. Like Rinne, historians engage in theo-
rizing and offer theorems when they are able to immerse themselves in ancient
materials to a level in which they explain a past that would otherwise remain
mysterious. Bringing about this clarity is an act of theorizing as it offers a new
and perceptive way of seeing.
The place of theory in the discipline 97

History can also be seen to embrace particular perspectives that have specific
purposes in mind, advancing different views of the built environment. These views
have critical implications as they introduce overarching ideas or grand under-
standings of eras. Political or social understandings, for example, may play important
roles in some accounts of history. Historical writers advance their perspective of past
interpretations without always admitting influences, possibly because they simply
share the view in which they operate and aren’t aware of any other option, or
possibly because they understand it to be the best presentation of the material.
Sigfried Gideon’s Space, Time and Architecture may be argued to be among these
works, which is generally recognized to have been written to forward Modernism’s
claim to innovation in spatial relationships.19 Although it was later argued that
this publication was part of the propaganda assembled and distributed by Congrès
Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), the organization that was founded
in Switzerland in June 1928 with the purpose of promoting Modern architecture,
and its presentation of history still sheds light on the ways in which modern
architecture was perceived as a radical change from previous building. Similarly,
Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing and Family Life by Dolores Hayden
is an historical account that explores the policies and actions of government and
corporations in the development of a gendered and suburban America. The main-
stream nature of the unending evidence gives solid support to this perspective.
Hayden’s interpretation is thorough and thoughtful, leaving any reader to believe
that history could not be seen in another way. Whether or not these historians are
aware that their specific views help advance the accounts of the past as theorems or
even if they grasp the uniqueness of these insights, the interpretations are able to
provide new clarifications that open up different understandings of the past. We are
able to see what has happened in a different light, which introduces a new way of
seeing the situation. History also operates as a theorem.
On the other hand, some historical writers openly recognize the role of their
perspectives in the assessments they put forward and acknowledge that their offering
is a particular view of history. Kenneth Frampton plainly states his perspectives in the
preface to Modern Architecture: A Critical History, noting the influence of Donald
Schön and critical theory on his writing.20 As one of the most well-known pub-
lications on modern architecture, Frampton’s acknowledgment of his own views in
this interpretation of the built environment underscores the role of the line of
inquiry in any work. While the exact outcomes of influences are difficult to pinpoint,
the recognition of these factors supports the account as a theorem that identifies
and celebrates particular connections.
In reviewing these relationships between history and theory, how these works
are identified is telling—we often reference them as either history or theory,
although these labels are always reductive and it is easy to see how there is con-
siderable overlap. Histories can present strong and compelling theorems, while
theorems can also offer insightful histories. Narratives and lines of inquiry are able to
have strong commonalities. To tease them apart or only think of one instead of
the other creates a separation that often misrepresents the works. The relationship
98 The place of theory in the discipline

of the subjects of history and theory—especially in regards to the power of their

roles—needs to be acknowledged as it better explains the composition.

Theorems of history
There will always be inconsistencies in how the terms “history” and “theory” are
used, yet by identifying the relationship between these two subjects we are better
able to see the ways in which historical data propose clarifications, or how clari-
fications employ historical data. While history is sometimes assumed to be neutral
because it is advanced in a confident voice, accounts of history may be accepted too
readily and without consideration for the views on which they are based. Historians
are understandably eager to share their perspectives of the built environment and the
influences that shaped it, but any student of design needs to be aware of the nature
of the subject and make an effort to identify the framework for the presented
material. This type of reflection will provide a way in which history becomes a
powerful resource rather than an instrument that works to indoctrinate specific views
of the discipline. Thinking about historical discussions as “theorems of history” may
frame this situation in a more accurate manner, connecting history to theory as well
as identifying the perspective that is at work within any account of the past.
While different historical accounts can be seen as theorems of history that are
supported by diverse lines of inquiry, these numerous understandings of the past
are also able to be perceived as a composite that “hangs together,” offering an array
of explanations that overlap, reinforce, oppose and are indifferent to one another.
That is, similarities may be recognized within many historical narratives, enabling
connections to be made between various views. These may establish a larger, more
complex appreciation for past events, institutions, people and the built environ-
ment. Differences between narratives can also be identified, introducing a dis-
sonance that brings attention to the material. Instead of seeking to resolve these
inherent contrasts, understanding how various perspectives support assorted
accounts provides a rich view of the past. Addressing history as a cacophony of
views, whether they are seen to operate in concert, disagreement or disengagement
from one another, helps achieve the realization that history is more than a single,
authoritative report of what has come before.
Because accuracy with the world is a characteristic of theorizing, the subject of
history can be understood to consist of numerous theorems about the past as these
works are closely scrutinized against the evidence. This does not mean that con-
flicting accounts cannot exist, as the data may be organized and assessed in ways
that could support different interpretations. Much like conservative and liberal
economists who look at the same market and derive opposing interpretations, it is
possible to study historical information and arrive at alternative understandings.
However, the understandings are only successful and acceptable when they strive
for describing the world in a precise and truthful manner, working to avoid
incorrect or misleading perceptions. Simply because a wide variety of views of the
past are able to be entertained does not mean that every interpretation is valid.
The place of theory in the discipline 99

It is also possible to understand that proposing the subject of history through a

series of well-organized and efficient historical summaries shows only particular
aspects of the material, diminishing the richness of the events and possibility of
multiple readings and explanations. If the subject of history is seen as a collection of
different perspectives, no single document needs to attend to all of the data. Further-
more, abridgments risk the possibility of missing the complexity of any situation.
Details and nuances cannot be neglected in order to provide a quick overview that
attempts to substitute for the varied ideas and happenings within a given time
period. For example, architecture at the beginning of the twentieth century is often
conveyed as an era that pursued a new society through architecture, aided by
material exploration with steel and glass, yet this view overshadows much of the
other work during the period and has difficulty including topics such as a pursuit of
craft and its influence. Recognizing the Arts and Crafts movement as a parallel
period demonstrates the problems with dividing history into summative eras. The
eclecticism in recent decades of architecture is even more problematic. While some
historians have employed the label “late modernism,” the diversity of the work is
difficult to summarize, leaving a time in the history of architecture without a
condensed definition. In this way, reductive understandings can be seen to introduce
historical accounts that are unproductive for the discipline.
Perceiving the subject of history as closely related to and overlapping with the
subject of theory opens the possibility of seeing historical accounts as theorems that
advance insightful and informative understandings as well as understanding that
theorizing is able to address issues about past events and environments. The com-
monalities of history and theory can be argued to strengthen the two because each
operation reinforces the other. A history that theorizes actively engages in clarifying
what has occurred and advances theorems that explain the past. A theory that
addresses history explains situations and contexts to shed light on previous events
and contexts. The ability to erase alleged boundaries between the two does not
necessarily indicate that the two topics are one and the same, but the connections
are deep and rich, helping each serve its role in the field.

Theory and design

The relationship of theory and design

Like the subject of history, the subject of design is often associated with theory
because both are engaged at a general level of discussion in the discipline as well as
connected to advancements in architecture made through either thought or built
work. However, the relationship between them is not as straightforward as their
activities are realized to be different in focus and type. While the subject of theory
is concerned with clarifying, the subject of design is typically described as involved
with planning or making, such as expressing a composition or idea. Certainly theore-
tical explanations can be articulated through design and design expressions can be
clarified through theorems, but the exact connection between these two remains
100 The place of theory in the discipline

difficult to pinpoint as the interactions of their activities are often confused. If we

begin to investigate the interactions, we recognize the possibility of four relationships:
theory may inform and lead design, design may inform and lead theory, the two
may work collaboratively, or their actions may occur in a way in which they are
entirely distinct from one another. In order to better comprehend these possibi-
lities, a better understanding of design, in terms of its definition, operations and its
elements, is warranted.

Defining design
Design is a term that is often ambiguous, involving a breadth of intentions applied
in many different fields. The term is defined as a way “to point out or represent by
some distinctive sign, mark, or token; to indicate, signify” as a verb; as a noun, it is
understood to be “a plan or scheme conceived in the mind and intended for sub-
sequent execution; the preliminary conception of an idea that is to be carried into
effect by action; a project.”21 Within the discipline, design is employed as either
of these with frequent interchange, referencing an endeavor at times or a result of
that action at other times. Because design is often seen as a central subject in
architecture, a single discussion in the discipline can easily exercise both definitions
of the term to create a situation in which it is difficult to decipher its exact con-
notations. Yet it is easy to accept variations in this term without question as we
understand the meaning because of the context. This usage is similar to the every-
day usage of the term “theory” as it can also describe a verb or a noun, indicating
either an activity or a body of explanations.
The definition of design not only alternates between operating as a verb or a
noun but can also be seen to be unclear in scope. Since design is a word that is
often applied loosely and can reference a variety of meanings in architecture,
questions about the extent of its operations can quickly arise—are all endeavors
that deal with making in architecture part of design, or does design only address
certain activities? How is design identified—could it include such things as the
arrangement of ductwork or is it only concerned with particular applications?
Similar to Sir Nicholas Pevsner’s well-known declaration that a bicycle shed is a
building while Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture, any discussion of design
needs to seek out its parameters in order to understand how it connects to related
areas. Yet instead of attempting to draw lines between the types of manifestations
that may or may not be considered design, it is possible to start an investigation of the
subject by examining its operations. In this way, it is not the boundaries of the
topic or a policing of the use of the term but a concern with the way it works,
reflecting our discussion of history as narrative.
If we look at design as an activity, a number of discussions about a way to grasp
or define this particular undertaking are able to be reviewed. The term “design
process” distinguishes the activity from its result, helping to further clarify that it is
an endeavor. In general, a process is understood to involve a kind of method or
means and develops over time. There are many debates within the discipline that
The place of theory in the discipline 101

shed light on this process, but no single view of the activity of design has been
deemed as a final and authoritative synopsis. The lack of a single definition points
to the realization that design can be seen to occur in many ways, depending upon the
designer, the complexity of the situation and the purpose of the activity. Different
problems may call for different considerations, and each designer may have particular
ways of framing a problem. While the options for describing design as a process are
plentiful and could be debated in great depth, this discussion provides a broad
overview that encompasses a variety of views and concerns in order to establish a
solid basis for understanding the fundamentals involved. Such a general foundation
enables an exploration of the relationship between design and theory, seeing how
each of these subjects may influence the other, if at all.

Descriptions of the design process

Numerous accounts of the design process can be found in the discipline, ranging
from broad generalities to specific notations of the activity. The difficulties in
arriving at any description should not be a surprise to those who are familiar with
architecture as design problems are known for their complex nature. Horst Rittel
captured this well when he characterized design as a “wicked” problem in that
there exists no complete formula that ensures its solution, the work has no definitive
end, it can be engaged through a variety of approaches that use different beginnings
and arrive at different endings, and it has no definitive answer.22 This view of
design proposes it as a challenge to be addressed or a situation in which something is
wanted but how it is achieved is not readily apparent. While it can be argued that
the work is not always complex or difficult, perceiving design as a problem—and the
design process as a problem-solving activity—provides an accurate assessment of the
situation. This view has continually been developed with the increasing com-
plexities of buildings as well as architecture’s role in responding to society in the
modern era.
If we define the design process as a problem-solving activity, there are many
well-recognized descriptions that further characterize this work. A look at these
provides an overall understanding of the types of activity involved and lays the
foundation for exploring the relationship between design and theory. While a
broad overview of the design process may be expressed as a set of activities that
move from the general to the specific in order to develop a design, it can also be
framed in a number of ways, including a comprehensive set of definitive stages, a
loose sequence of decisions, a reflective activity, or a conjecture that is then analyzed.
While each of these can be distinguished from the others because of a particular
aspect or specific perspective that is taken, they all also include similarities that note
the general nature of design. One significant similarity is the employment of
heuristics, or design strategies. In the end, an array of possible ways of under-
standing the design process helps establish a broad but accurate assessment about its
composition and nature, which allows for an examination of the relationship
between the subjects of design and theory.
102 The place of theory in the discipline

The stages of analysis–synthesis

One of the most common descriptions of the design process is analysis–synthesis, or
the identification of a comprehensive set of stages for addressing a problem that
begins with its identification and proceeds through its evaluation. “Programming is
analysis. Design is synthesis.”23 This well-known statement, offered by William Peña,
FAIA, founder of Caudill, Rowlett and Scott, understands the activity to consist of
the two parts of problem seeking and problem solving. Defining the process of
design in this light was of particular interest to the discipline in the years after the
post-World War II building boom and with the demise of Modernism. While the
construction industry was responding to new styles of architecture and more pro-
grammatic concerns, a more scientific course for developing the built environment
was sought to respond to criticism of an architectural agenda that did not work to
address client needs or views.24 Through the promise of a more objective line of
inquiry, the possibility of assuring a design process that remained focused and
delivered a logical product was sought. The everyday activities of designers were
studied and summaries of their anticipated or ideal endeavors were made. These
documentations of the design exercise operate as both a representation of how this
work transpires and an example of what should be undertaken, serving as a kind of
behavior template.
Numerous designers have proposed analysis–synthesis models over the years.
Behavioral scientist Jon Lang introduced one as a critical response to his views of
the design approaches employed by Modernists. Presented as a procedural theory
for architecture, it lays out a sequence of activities that are offered as a desired
design process.25 The entire series consists of five stages, beginning with the gathering
of information, the production of possible solutions, evaluation and implementation
of the design proposal, with possibilities for feedback loops and post-occupancy
evaluation. Values and basic knowledge about the built environment support the
process. Bruce Archer, an industrial designer, also advances an analysis–synthesis
description of design with a sequence of operations.26 The process begins from a
foundation of basic training, then proceeds to programming phase, data collection
and analysis, a creative stage, then the communication and execution of a solution.
Feedback loops and continual attention to the analysis and collection of data allow
for necessary revisions. While the process appears linear, the reiterative possibilities
provide a way of designing that may be seen to be more cyclical in nature than the

FIGURE 3.2 The design process can be described as analysis–synthesis, which proposes
that an analysis of the situation leads to the synthesis of a design.
The place of theory in the discipline 103

model offered by Lang. The cyclical nature is exemplified in Morris Asimow’s

description of the activity of design, which perceives it to move from the abstract
to concrete through cycles of analysis, synthesis, evaluation and communication.
Each cycle helps the design address more and more issues, gaining both complexity
and specificity to progress toward a final solution. Tim McGinty offers yet another
model, defining the process to be composed of five steps, beginning with initiation
and progressing through preparation, proposal making, evaluation and action.27
The stages of initiation, preparation, proposal making and evaluation can be seen to
cycle in iterative loops, backtrack with feedback, and even create cycles within
cycles, depending on each designer’s particular way of working.
These descriptions of the design process as an activity of distinct stages are only a
few of the numerous possibilities of this perspective, yet they illustrate both a broad
understanding of this view and a variety of ways of communicating it. The examples
have many similarities, including the identification of the different activities of each
stage as well as an overall direction of the work with definitive beginnings and
endings. Analysis and programming constitute the initial phases, followed by a stage
of synthesis or proposals. Evaluations and implementations complete the work.
While these stages seem logical, what is curious is a sense that these descriptions can
easily become more complex or formal and less messy than the activity of design.
For some of the examples, there is a sense of post-rationalization in that the phases
seem to be more readily identifiable after the work rather than during the process.
Descriptions that include considerable detailing make the activity seem overly
prescriptive, even though it is possible that these accounts capture a great deal of
accuracy. Yet in spite of the apparent complexity or rigidity, these depictions of the
design process include many feedback loops, iteration possibilities and the values of
participants. Defining the activity of design to be composed of distinct stages and
being able to detail the activities in each stage provides a view that attempts to
incorporate not only all the types of work involved but also all the possible

Decision trees
The term “decision tree” describes a second way to perceive the design process, in
which individual decisions work together to form a larger and meaningful
sequence. Instead of separating all design activity into distinct phases of different
types, understanding the entire development to be a loose series of choices recognizes
the informal reactions that many designers have in response to problem solving.
Issues to be addressed are determined and ordered through individual ways of seeing.
Each person employs his basic knowledge to the process as well as his familiar way
of working. The design process becomes the implementation of this knowledge in
reaction to specific ideas or situations. Work evolves through a selection of decisions,
with each subsequent decision building on the previous one. Beginning decisions
establish the initial identification of a problem or direction to begin a series of
related choices. Decisions may be reassessed and allow the design to backtrack,
104 The place of theory in the discipline

making changes before continuing along a new series of choices. Such an approach
depends on knowledge that is applicable to the problem, the generative moves that
respond to these views and the testing of these results as pieces that work in com-
bination toward a solution.28 In this way, problem solving is seen as less of a
comprehensive set of specific actions to be administered and more of a way of
composing a set of decisions.
There are various options for moving through such a decision-making process.
One is that design decisions can be made without much foresight or deliberation,
selecting one possibility over another for no particular reason. The series of choices
is arbitrary and indiscriminate, moving unsystematically through the activity. While
this random method offers little support for each decision as well as its influence on
the resulting direction of the process, it is still able to produce a design. For example,
it is possible for a designer to make a decision about a response to the context, then
move to an exploration of detailing and follow this with a study of spatial organization.
A second option is the predetermination of a specific conclusion. All decisions are
directed toward the support of this desired outcome. With the ends directing the
means, the selections become more limited but may still include a range of possi-
bilities. Because the end is largely concluded, the series of choices can be made
without much concern about sequence. This type of situation is seen in a design
that is determined beforehand to achieve a given form. Some choices, such as those
about spatial organizations and circulation, still need to be studied and selected but
the range may be limited as it is likely these issues have an effect on the overall
configuration. Other decisions, including those about material and detailing, for
example, may be less restricted. A third option is an awareness of an overall organi-
zation of the design process, approaching the decisions in a logical order. Arranging
decisions in a hierarchical manner provides a sequencing in which the results of
one decision have a rational relationship to the next. Such an organization may be
from major to minor ideas, from the details to the whole, or from one of these
positions to the other and back again, revisiting the initial decisions after gaining
information about the entire sequence. A series of decisions that works from major
to minor ideas may be one of the most common approaches. Conversely, a series

FIGURE 3.3 The design process can be described by decision trees, in which a series of
decisions develop the design.
The place of theory in the discipline 105

of decisions that begins with small concepts and moves to the whole is also an
effective hierarchical approach. Details or individual ideas are seen to be critical and
become the genesis of the work. These small beginnings inform larger and larger
pieces, directing the development of the entirety. Each successive decision still has
many options, but the small beginnings establish a course for development. The use
of a hierarchy in the design process may even work from one end of the spectrum
to the other and back again, purposefully reversing the process in order to gain
insight from generative ideas at different scales. A designer is able to play out a
string of decisions in different directions and to make choices with a kind of
hindsight that is not otherwise available.
Whether accomplished at random, with a final product in mind, or through a
hierarchical procedure, seeing the design process as a series of decisions places a
focus on the role of choices in the development of a project. This understanding
emphasizes what may be seen as the crux of the activity but still includes a number
of ways to interpret the event as decisions need to be identified, made and tested.
Designers have to recognize or strategize about which choices to entertain, how
the choices are then selected, and the ways in which the results are evaluated.
While this process seems rational, it does not necessarily include a formal analysis, a
clear recognition of values, or other aspects that may be deemed critical to a quality
design process. A series of decisions that does not have to react to anything beyond
the designer’s own views creates a situation in which the design process may be
understood to be subjective expression. Yet because there is always the ability to
review decisions by others involved, the possibility that influences beyond those of
the creator may be included. Defining the design process as a series of decisions
offers a broad framework without restrictive guidelines, helping to capture the core
of the activity without dictating specific moves.

Another way of describing the design process is offered by Donald Schön, who
discusses the activity as one of “reflection-in-action.”29 Schön sees a designer as
having a “conversation with the materials of a situation,” interpreting the issues to
resolve the problem.30 In reflection-in-action, a problem must first be set before it
is solved. This may be about how to create a gathering space, the way that a
building can fit the site, or even about how the activities of the spaces may be
enhanced, to offer a few examples, but the problem may not necessarily be the one
expressed by the program brief or outlined by the client. The designer has the
ability to interpret the situation and address other issues that she identifies. In this
kind of approach, the activity of design is seen to be responsive to the circumstances
at hand and works as a kind of give-and-take between the existing limitations and
what is desired.
Schön introduces a number of terms to describe reflection-in-action, including
“reframing” and “appreciative systems.” Reframing speaks to the way in which the
perception of a situation can be changed in order to introduce a different
106 The place of theory in the discipline

FIGURE 3.4 The design process can be described as reflection-in-action, in which the
designer sets a problem then reflects and responds to the specific situation.

understanding, shedding new light on how a design problem is viewed. It identifies

a designer’s ability to go beyond a way of seeing conditions in familiar ways to
introduce a perspective that may not be obvious but opens up many positive
attributes for the design. By introducing an unusual approach or association, the
problem is able to be reset. For example, a wall may be considered as a screen or
device for separating space, a ramp may be reinterpreted as a sloped entry, and a
site may be first understood as an integral part of the ecosystem. The ability to
reframe opens up the potential for meeting the needs of situations that are even
unseen at the outset of the design process and is successful when it results in
something that is valued beyond what was expected. Such regard for moves that
produce desired situations is identified with the term “appreciative systems,”
recognizing positive elements that can be introduced in projects. Designers with
experience see these instances that provide usefulness and meaning, introducing an
ability to judge the worthiness of the design. In this way, the design process is seen
as an activity that negotiates between phases of action and appreciation.
Understanding the design process as a conversation with the situation portrays
the activity as a working, flexible endeavor. The operations involve compromise,
but rather than settling for the minimum requirements and achieving consensus,
this kind of cooperation improves the project. Designers move between issues such
as contexts, spatial organizations and programmatic requirements in order to reach
a proposal that meets and even exceeds the given needs. Seeing the activity of
design as a dialogue enables the task to be understood as an act of reflective
engagement, consciously progressing toward an outcome that is informed and

A fourth description of the design process can be defined as conjecture–analysis.
This way of working suggests that designers propose possible solutions then analyze
how these perform.31 A person’s ability to offer such conjectures stems from his
experience and knowledge, which serves as a repertoire of information about the
built environment. However latent it may seem to depend on a designer’s back-
ground, studies performed by Bill Hillier and his environmental science research
team show that this knowledge is the primary genesis of proposed solutions. While
suggestions that stem from a thorough and carefully considered understanding of
the problem may appear to be a more reasonable foundation, it is logical that a
designer is unable to imagine something which he doesn’t know. Design is
The place of theory in the discipline 107

FIGURE 3.5 The design process can be described as conjecture–analysis, in which a

design is proposed and then analyzed. Successive conjectures and analyses
follow to develop the resulting design.

understood as an activity that cannot happen without influence—everything that is

advanced is affected by the individual’s understandings and how he organizes and
frames the situation either implicitly or explicitly.
The analysis becomes a critical test that aids the progress of the design, reviewing
how the conjecture operates and identifying the need for revisions and refine-
ments. Proposals become starting points that provide something to evaluate. With
something to assess, the design process gains definition and direction. A view of the
demands of the design becomes clear. The benefits and drawbacks are able to be
viewed in terms of various possibilities. In this light, the analysis becomes the sig-
nificant part of the process as almost any conjecture may be advanced but its
development occurs through review, acceptance and adjustments. Determining
what works and improving upon that design happens when there is a proposal to
be examined and the designer is willing and able to change or alter it.
Understanding the design process as making conjectures then analyzing them
portrays the activity as able to be influenced through the building of a broad and
deep repertoire of possibilities as well as taking a strong evaluative position.
Potential solutions as well as their ability to respond to the situation need to be
recognized, applied and interrogated. A thorough grasp of ways to perceive the
organization and elements of the built environment and a comprehension of how
this body relates to the issues at hand becomes influential. An individual not only
has to be able to have a grasp of various solution types or strategies but also
understand which responses are appropriate for which problems, then critically
assess them in the given situation.

A note about heuristics

Heuristics is a common way of describing a designer’s knowledge base, which is a
part of all of these descriptions of the design process. Understood as strategies or
procedures, heuristics operate as design tools because they provide an established set
of successful responses. This may be seen to range from knowledge of history or
108 The place of theory in the discipline

personal experiences to typologies and analogies. They can address basic design
ideas such as composition and organization, including the most elementary dis-
tinctions of either linear or centralized spaces. In the design process, a designer
employs heuristic devices to address everything from contextual to programmatic
issues. Connecting what is understood with what is proposed, heuristics speak to
how the basic elements of design are recognized and create a set of tactics that
enable designers to advance their work.
Since strategies involve everything from basic spatial relationships to typologies,
the wealth of information to manage can be so vast that designers often acknowledge
and rely on only a small portion of them. Frequently, individuals begin to approach
everything they do with “rules of thumb” that have proven successful for them.
These strategies are both shaped by and reinforce a framework through which an
individual makes sense of the built environment. Such approaches become not
only a kind of default for a designer but also begin to build a distinctive attitude, as
repetitive use begins to connect the response to the person. On the other hand,
heuristics may also be seen to be limiting if no more than a standard application is
offered. If problems are only met with formulaic responses, the design may not
achieve its potential.
While building a solid understanding of the basic elements of design is essential,
it is also critical to recognize that heuristics are only a part of a larger process.
Understanding the strategies in regards to both their power and place sheds light
on ways in which the design process can be supported yet not shortchanged or
circumvented. Everything from organizations to typologies speaks to only a portion
of the problem. Heuristics provide many opportunities for projects, but the overall
course of work is not reduced by a simple application of a design strategy.

Consistencies in the design process

All of these descriptions both reinforce and expand our understanding of the
activity of design, presenting a variety of ways in which it can be articulated. While
these descriptions include contrasts that shed light on the different ways that the
activity is understood, we are also able to identify many similarities in the elements
and operations involved. In fact, the contrasts can be argued to indicate comparable
understandings of the type of activity that defines the design process, yet simple
changes that emphasize particular elements or frame alternatives to the basic operations
are introduced. For example, all descriptions of the design process include some
kind of thinking and making combination. Thinking summarizes operations that
include analysis, reflection and assessment, or the aspects that respond to and help
shape what is being created. It may include actions such as a review of the particular
situation investigated, an investigation of similar programs or problems, a search for
inspiration and the evaluation of potential responses to create a specific element.
The making is the physical proposal that results from the thinking, manifesting the
ideas into built space and form. There is definitive progress to this thinking and
making combination, and even those that appear more linear in nature have
The place of theory in the discipline 109

feedback loops that allow for review and revisions of earlier design moves. All rely
on some fundamental basic understandings that a designer brings to the work. And
all include the expectation that a designer will propose something, which may be
seen as a synthesis of research, a creative expression, or a familiar and dependable
solution. These descriptions offer a variety of ways of comprehending the design
process, yet all the possibilities can also be seen to support a coherent overall
interpretation of the event.
With the strength of these similarities, it is possible for us to establish the funda-
mental elements and actions that constitute a common understanding of the design
process. If we analyze the descriptions, we see that all of them include the identi-
fication of a problem to be solved as well as someone who identifies this problem.
In addition, there is a period of thinking and making, which can happen quickly or
over a long span of time and in any order or even cyclically. This thinking and
making phase can easily be seen to reflect the main activities in the different
descriptions of analysis–synthesis, decision trees, reflection-in-action and conjecture–
analysis, although the order and emphasis may vary. This thinking and making are
two different activities, although they frequently occur simultaneously. Their difference
is identified as it is generating and analyzing, which are two diverse operations.
This pairing works to aid development as the outcome is advanced with reviews.
While a final, complete result from these activities may or may not be achieved,
the process always includes some proposal or response—an intended plan or pro-
posed solution. This broad summary of the design process enables us to better
understand the elements involved in this work, no matter how we view the exact
activity, as well as compare it to other subjects in the discipline.

Distinguishing the design process from theorizing

When we compare the activities of both design and theory, their commonalities
show how these subjects are able to interact. If the design process is generally
understood to consist of the identification of a problem, a person who has engaged
in this identification, the activities of thinking and making, and a resulting proposal,
we are able to contrast this with the elements of theorizing. The composition of
theorizing offered by Michael Oakeshott is useful to review at this point, as it
serves as a guide for summarizing the essential elements of the design process.
Oakeshott notes that theorizing is made up of four parts, including: a “going-on”
attended to, a reflective consciousness or theorist, an inquiry designed by the theorist,
or theorizing, and the emergent, or theorem.32 Comparing the two activities shows
that both involve a person who contemplates an issue and produces an outcome
that documents this effort. In both operations, the initial observation that begins the
endeavors is of enough significance to spur action by an individual. These initial
observations may happen quickly or take a long time to recognize. In addition, the
operations may occur in a short amount of time or over an extended period.
Finally, the work could address a small or broad issue, either briefly or in great
depth. Yet the design process has a purpose and outcome that is distinct from
110 The place of theory in the discipline

theorizing. The activities may have similarities but they are not interchangeable and
need to be distinguished—and there are several key distinctions.
While both the design process and theorizing begin with observations, the
intentions of these are different as the initiation of one is prompted to solve an
issue through planning or making while the other starts with the desire to find
an explanation. This difference is subtle yet critical: efforts to address a problem
through a plan or scheme look for a solution, while the attempt to clarify an idea
or issue is a pursuit of greater understanding. The former seeks an informed
response to a situation and the latter aims toward improved comprehension. These
reasons for the operations demonstrate two different goals, which has the possibility
of being addressed in concert but can also be understood as pursued independently.
This difference is reinforced in the recognition that designing produces a specific
and local solution while theorizing is general in nature. Both results of these actions
are similar in that there is a documentation of the thought involved, which oper-
ates as stopping points for the endeavor; however, the products are different in that
the process of design offers a specific creation that is able to be expressed in a
variety of forms, from sketches to three-dimensional pieces, while the process of
theory yields a description that is both general and abstract. While both of these
types of documentation help form a more sophisticated contextual understanding
that supports the generation of new designing and theorizing, the products that
result are not the same.
Theory and design also differ in regards to how they are continued—the general
and never-ending nature of theorizing allows the work to be picked up at any
time, extending and developing it through further investigation. Once theorizing is
started, it can easily carry through many projects, over years, and even throughout
a career. The ability to maintain this kind of a line of inquiry is always present. On
the other hand, design activities typically have an identifiable beginning and end,
even though the length of these engagements can be quite varied. Different design
approaches can be studied and heuristics can be used over and over, yet the work
stops when something is produced. The episodic nature of design contrasts with
the ability of theorizing to work in an overarching, constant manner because of its
general and continual characteristics.
Because of the similarities in the overall compositions of both the design process and
theorizing, it is possible to blend the two operations together. However, the differ-
ences in the goals of the work and the kind of outcome produced show that design
and theory have fundamental distinctions. Our ability to see these distinctions and
understand their effects enables us to not only better grasp these subjects in general but
also helps to engage our work with clarity and direction. Without this perspective, the
two activities are easily confused, making development in each subject difficult.

The interactions of the design process and theorizing

The distinctions between the design process and theorizing establish the two
operations as having separate roles and purposes, yet at the same time they can also
The place of theory in the discipline 111

be seen to have many similarities, including a parallel overall organization. This

perspective begins to shed light on how we are able to describe the relationship of
these two subjects. Specifically, we can examine their processes and investigate
possible connections, exploring the various ways in which these activities may or
may not interact. The options include a joint endeavor between the design process
and theorizing, one leading the other, or no connection at all between them. As
previously mentioned, these options translate into four possibilities: theorizing and
designing work together, theorizing informs and guides designing, designing
enlightens and leads theorizing, or both may work separately without association.
Exploring these prospects furthers the understanding of these activities, not only
playing out how the elements may work together but also shedding light on how
these subjects relate to one another in the discipline.
If we begin by looking at how these two operations of the design process and
theorizing work together, the initial observations that encourage an individual to
seek both a clarification of and a response to an issue may work in concert—that is,
it is possible to imagine a situation in which striving for an explanation and making
a plan support one another. However, it is critical to realize that these two inten-
tions are not the same. An example of a joint activity may be an investigation of
clarifying how urban fabric operates as a system of facades or forms while simulta-
neously engaging on a project in a city setting. It quickly becomes apparent that
theorizing about the issue is general in nature and looks for abstract comprehen-
sion. The design undertaking may explore its role as a part of the facades or forms,
but it accomplishes this in a local and specific manner, responding to the particular
needs of the program and site. In this way, two different levels of thought are
recognized from the beginning. Activities involve theorizing and cycles of thinking
and making, yet, the differences are distinct. Theorizing occurs at a general level,
reflecting on the issue in search of an abstract explanation or clarification. The
thinking and making that constitutes the design process, on the other hand, attends
to the local and particular issues of the problem.
In exploring the possibility of these activities working together, we recognize
that all three of these actions may be able to happen in a single episode but they
are still individual. That is, creating plans and reflecting on them constitutes the
separate activities of making and thinking in the design process, which then also
differs from the theorizing that occurs at a detached, general level. Creation,
reflection and clarification are three independent activities. If the work alternates
between making, thinking and theorizing, each development can be seen to help the
progress of not only its own work but also others as advancement is made through
the construction of new and improved information. All aspects of the endeavor
benefit. Maintaining a good balance between these activities may prove difficult,
and it is likely that certain pieces receive more attention at particular times. Juggling
both the operations of the design process and theorizing is possible, and we gain a
clear understanding of how potential interactions may happen.
Another option for the relationship between these activities is that one precedes
the other. If we think of theorizing as occurring prior to the design process, it is
112 The place of theory in the discipline

possible that this sequence provides a way for a general understanding to be

established and provide guidance to the design activities that follow. The two
interact in an order that enables clarifying to be addressed and produce an explanation,
which is then used to assist the design process. For example, an observation initiates
theorizing, which then develops a documented theorem. In turn, the theorem is
able to introduce information to the design process, influencing considerations and
conjectures. This work then serves as a body of material that, when observed, may
generate new theorizing.
A second consideration with one activity preceding the other is that the design
process leads theorizing. This possibility suggests that thinking and making operate
as a united creative avenue, considering a wide variety of issues that culminate in
an expression. Theorizing is able to reflect on this activity, using the work to
develop a general clarification. This prioritization of the design process may be seen
to relegate theorizing to a role of reflection and even post-rationalization, giving
primacy to the design process. Yet this affiliation can be perceived to provide a
number of advantages because of how reactive theorizing is able to be. In other
words, theorizing is initiated through observation and can be understood as a
response to what is observed from thinking and making. Such an order can be
witnessed in the work of theorists and historians as they attempt to interpret the
world, replying to the conditions of the built environment with insight and
Whether theorizing precedes or succeeds the design process can be seen as a
chicken-or-egg debate—it is not likely to be resolved, and an answer is of little
consequence because both of the endeavors are able to be revisited and reconsidered
at any point. In this view, the design process and theorizing can be perceived to
operate cyclically, with each supporting the work of the other. They are also able
to occur over either short intervals or extended periods. Order and time may not
matter; however, the significance of the benefits that are possible when one activity
informs the other can be argued to be critical because this interaction serves
developments in both the design process and theorizing.
A final relationship possibility between the design process and theorizing is that
the two are separate and remain so. We have recognized that design processes
involve thinking and making, with the thinking focused on the purpose of creating.
Theorizing, on the other hand, seeks to clarify and illuminate, offering new insights
and understandings. Theorizing leads to theorems as clarifying results in its doc-
umentation. The differences in these two pursuits are evident, making it possible to
comprehend a situation in which the design process and theorizing are not only
distinct but operate for different purposes and result in different outcomes. In this
light, it is possible to understand that the subjects of design and theory have only a
tangential relationship as they are part of the same discipline yet do not necessarily
Recognizing the possibility that the subjects of design and theory are not directly
connected introduces a sense of autonomy for each activity, establishing the
operations as independent events. However, taking such a position may ignore
The place of theory in the discipline 113

hidden connections as, at the very least, thinking involved in the design process
stems from some familiar understandings or knowledge base. Such basic under-
standings often include accepted and tested theorems. The interactions between the
design process and theorizing can be distant and even latent, yet a link between the
design process and theorizing is still recognized. While designing with the help of
an accepted and established set of theorems may not work to actively advance new
ideas in the discipline, such an activity may be quite common. Similarly, theorizing
may be connected to the design process as it is possible that theorizing may be
understood to depend on design work to inspire new activities of clarifying. The
discussions about and the development in the built environment serve as the
sources for theorizing, making these actions meaningful for not only the design but
also as material for theoretical endeavors.


The relationships between the activities of theorizing and design have been
noted to include the possibilities of one preceding the other, the two operating
jointly, or the two having no interaction at all. Bernard Tschumi is an architect
who has called attention to the possibility of engaging many of these options,
bringing awareness to the flexibility of this situation. In discussing the way he
approaches his work, Tschumi describes the relationship between theorizing and
design by stating that “some of the theoretical themes from years past are still
present in our work today, but now practice precedes theory as often as theory
once preceded practice. It is a very fluid relationship.”33 This understanding
introduces the advantage of allowing the two activities to operate indepen-
dently yet also provide support to one another. Tschumi also recognizes that
theorizing is able to operate in a broader, more comprehensive manner,
creating a kind of layered relationship.
Capitalizing on the idea that there is no prescribed sequence for the activities
of theorizing and design allows Tschumi to move between the two, shifting
between them without specific concerns about how they inform or affect one
another. This enables the activities to be engaged without the expectation that
a first move or decision is needed to continue to the second activity, and even
suggests that both may not necessarily have to be employed within any given
duration—it is possible that there may be long periods of time in which theo-
rizing is investigated without considering design, or that design is pursued
without any direct connection to theorizing. If one is connected to the other in
a particular endeavor, there is always the option that the relationship may
change or dissolve at any point in time. If there is no link but one is needed,
that can be initiated. With these possible variations recognized, the work is
viewed to be much nimbler in its ability to progress and respond. Tschumi sees
that the two activities operate from one another as necessary without the limita-
tions that come with a specific ordering. The freedom of the relationship
114 The place of theory in the discipline

opens the potential to optimize either activity because neither is restricted by

the other but support is available when it is wanted.
Yet Tschumi also notes that the relationship between the subjects of theory
and design is more complex than a simple co-existence of two distinct activities.
His remark about “theoretical themes from years past” that are still influential in
his present work taps into the abstract and general nature of theory. With the
ability to span across various undertakings, theorizing is linked over time rather
than understanding it as only operating in isolated episodes. Tschumi under-
stands that his theorizing has developed over years, enabling it to evolve as an
overarching structure that guides multiple endeavors. This idea is echoed and
expanded by another of his comments describing his view of the role of theory
in his practice, in which he states that “[w]hile a rigorous theoretical argument
was developed over a period of years, theory is rarely the starting point of a
project. It is rather the general framework. Practice can precede theory, much
as theory can precede practice.”34 Clearly, Tschumi sees a theoretical view as
something that is able to give direction to any work, but this does not insinuate
that it has to be developed prior to any engagement in the activity of design.
Both endeavors are able to be engaged at any time and in any order. Theorizing
simply has the potential to be compiled and modified over the course of various
engagements. While Tschumi notes that his activity of clarifying was built over
a long period, any presence of the activity of design during this time is still
possible. The “general framework” identifies a larger body of thought that
helps guide endeavors and may be in operation for an extended duration.
It is interesting that Tschumi’s quotes discussing the relationship between
theorizing and designing were shared almost a decade apart—his views on the
flexibility of the sequence of the activities as well as the role of theory as an
overall structure have been an understanding he has held for many years. The
considerable degree of freedom within the understanding establishes a broad
basis from which he works. With a general, overarching direction that describes
one layer of theorizing and the possibility of a wide range of relationships
between theorizing and design, the conception of theory has an autonomy and
independence. Understanding it in this way opens the possibilities for how it is
envisioned and employed, making it a powerful endeavor.

The descriptions of the possible relationships between the design process and
theorizing shed light on how these activities may interact, yet even more sig-
nificantly they provide a larger understanding of how they are able to support and
strengthen their operations through this connection. Progress in theorizing can
actively support design processes, while thinking and making are able to provide
material for generating further clarifications. While the two subjects are distinct,
their relationship can be a beneficial one. On the other hand, if theorizing and
design processes are seen to have little or no connection, both operations may still
be solid and healthy. The possibility of isolated conversations still allows for
The place of theory in the discipline 115

theorizing to make advances while the design process offers creations, and the dis-
cipline continues to function well. While there is no clear answer regarding the
relationships between these two activities, the possibilities shed light on the pur-
poses and functions of the design process and theorizing as well as the way in
which they interact.

Theory and criticism

The relationship of theory and criticism

Criticism is often understood in a different light than theory, history and design
because it typically works as an integral part of these subjects. In this light, it is
generally perceived to be ancillary rather than as a separate and distinct one. Cer-
tainly criticism can be seen as dependent on the grounds that its role is responsive,
offering a reaction to a possible or actual idea or situation. Yet it provides an
extensive and vital function in the discipline as it is able to work as both a general
analytical function embedded in other operations as well as a broader discussion
about the evaluation of proposals and built forms. This makes it able to operate
separately, perceived as an independent topic. If it is only capable of being seen as
part of activities such as theorizing and the design process, the general nature of
criticism has already been summarized in the previous conversations because of its
essential role in these subjects. However, focusing on criticism as a separate topic
enables it to be seen as an independent endeavor and allows a deeper under-
standing of this important activity. With the primary purpose of reflecting on
architecture, criticism involves everything from recognizing and interpreting built
space and form to applying a range of evaluative measures. It may be seen to have
either constructive or destructive intentions, yet its basic goal can be seen as offer-
ing assessment. While these operations help to distinguish criticism, it is obvious
that there are connections that can be disclosed, elucidating its relationships to
other subjects in the discipline. A closer look identifies how these links are under-
stood and operate.

Defining criticism
Criticism can be defined generally as engaging in both analysis and evaluation in
order to discuss intelligently the works beyond simple description, allowing for a
way to concentrate on the issues at hand. Originating from the Greek word krinein,
which means to cut, separate, divide and distinguish, criticism has always been
associated with analytical and discriminating actions.35 The term is explained as
“the action of criticizing, or passing judgment upon the qualities or merits of any-
thing; esp. the passing of unfavorable judgment; fault-finding, censure.”36 The
search for fault evolved toward discussions that included the ideas of culture and
discrimination in recent centuries, understanding that “judgment depended, of
course, on the social confidence of a class and later a profession.”37 The
116 The place of theory in the discipline

authoritarian aspect of criticism recognizes the implicit power of a critic as these

reviews seem to assume a superior position.
The important role that criticism plays in architecture can be seen to be similar
to its function in the discipline of literature. Discussions regarding the topic in lit-
erature provide a wealth of knowledge about the activity as dialogues of literary
criticism offer insightful understandings that are widely applicable. Perhaps one of
the most astute grasps of criticism is advanced by Wayne Shumaker in Elements of
Critical Theory, which discusses the topic in depth. Accepting that other subjects can
be substituted for “literature,” he offers the following explanation of criticism:

It is evident, then, that a general definition of criticism must be catholic,

emotionally neutral, and not contrived with the purpose of recommending a
favorite program … We must be content to say that criticism is any intelligent
discussion of literature, taking care to enjoin that “intelligent” be interpreted
liberally and that literature be the focus and not merely the vehicle of the
critic’s interest.38

Shumaker’s definition of criticism portrays it as a review guided by a knowledge-

able perspective rather than a particular or favored one, rebuking the inclusion of
assessments that are obviously based on personal views or individual agendas. This
description makes a connection of judging and discernment in criticism with reason
and familiarity, indicating a foundation that is more rational and less idiosyncratic.
Such a position, of course, reminds us of the presence of a paradigm that grounds
and directs all activities, including the activity of criticizing. The assumption of
particular beliefs and values affects the criticism. While neutrality and intelligence are
sought, they are always influenced by the paradigm in which the perspective is based.
Shumaker’s discussions about criticism also demonstrate the complexity of the
situation. Addressing the distinctions made between analysis and evaluation, he notes
that analysis may seem to be objective and descriptive in comparison to the beliefs
or preferences involved in evaluation. However, Shumaker argues that both
include a necessary act of prioritizing. In order to judge something, what is to be
reviewed must first be acknowledged and understood. In this way, determining the
focus of the study is part of the criticism itself. Recognizing something that is
worthy of review becomes an initial operation, signaling that a set of beliefs or
standards has been applied at the outset. Shumaker notes this situation in his
discussion of what criticism includes, stating that judgment and analysis are not
significantly distinct from discernment and evaluation:

Moreover, as we continue to reflect about the dispute, does it not suddenly

become plain that the issue can be compromised? Judgment is indeed essential
to criticism—but only because intelligent analysis, like intelligent evaluation,
depends heavily on the exercise of judgment. We ought to have recognized
from the beginning that the handling of analytical data is no less discriminatory
than choices among evaluative verdicts.39
The place of theory in the discipline 117

Defining criticism as a broad and intelligent discussion that involves values from the
outset of the endeavor recognizes the worldviews that ground the work. Criticism
is understood to be embedded in a particular perspective and is advanced from this
view. Analysis and evaluation operate as a line of inquiry, pursuing a specific way
of thinking about a situation. In this way, the activities of criticism and theorizing
share a common feature. Yet exactly how these lines of inquiry are understood and
operate in criticism can be seen to be both similar to and different from theorizing,
communicating a great deal about the nature and characteristics of this evaluative
activity as well as the relationship between the two topics.

The interactions of criticism and theorizing

Both criticism and theorizing operate as lines of inquiry, but theorizing advances a
perspective while criticism reviews and evaluates it. These actions seem to be oppo-
site in direction because theorizing attempts to build understanding while criticism
questions not only the work in general but also contributions to it. However,
advancing and evaluating can both be perceived as positive steps because the work
can be argued to be further developed through each of these efforts. That is, criticism
aids in the advancement of theorizing as it brings awareness to what theorizing needs
to address and refine. These activities are distinct in their purposes, yet an overall
view of the situation shows that both help a work to progress and improve.
This view of criticism and theorizing also conveys the possibility of a close
connection between the two as each supports the purpose of the other. Theorizing
produces material for critiques, and criticism’s evaluative dimension provides the
activity of clarifying with a focused review. However, both are independent
operations. They are like oil and water, sharing strong similarities but retaining their
individual identities. They can be mixed together in ways that create combinations
that vary between two distinct compounds to one consistent yet heterogeneous
mixture. These differences do not fundamentally change the relationship between
criticism and theorizing but do introduce different considerations.
If we look at how these two actions operate as completely separate lines of
inquiry, we are able to see that clarifying can occur without analysis, advancing an
explanation with no reflection or judgment. Reviews may be argued to help the
development of any theorizing, but it is not a requirement for this process. Similarly,
criticism may occur as an independent operation, focusing on pieces that are no
longer engaged in theorizing, such as existing theorems or built form. Frequently
recognized as its own body of work, criticism forwards analyses and evaluations of
recognized theorems or elements of the built environment. Because this operation
judges pieces that are the results of an inquiry, whether this is a written document
or part of the built environment, the critique is removed from a direct connection
to the activity of clarifying. Criticism is powerful and important in its own right,
and its relationship to theorizing is not a necessary one.
On the other hand, if we attempt to blur these activities as much as possible and
examine how closely the interaction of these two lines of inquiry can become, we
118 The place of theory in the discipline

can see the possibility of a constant and ongoing negotiation between them. Perceiv-
ing criticism as having an evaluative role that helps guide developments introduces its
assistance in the activity of clarifying because the inquiries serve as directives for
what needs to be addressed. In this way, criticism can be understood to work
together with theorizing to develop the clarity that is sought. The dialogue
between the clarifying and evaluative efforts is able to create a negotiation that
begins to employ critical thinking, which pursues intelligent progress in a conscious
and analytical way. Yet while the activities of development and examination often
happen in concert with one another, their distinction is still recognized. Michael
Oakeshott states that “an ideal character (e.g. a ‘science’) cannot be both used and
interrogated at the same time.”40 Oakeshott notes that either application or inves-
tigation is at work, but not simultaneously. In architecture, it is common that these
two activities may occur in an alternating manner, but two individual endeavors
can be identified because two different functions take place. Because the span of
time that involves both making and reflecting may appear to be unified, it is often
assumed that these activities are a single event. However, whether building abstract
theorems or physical forms, the act of reviewing requires us to cease developing at
some point in order to take stock of what the work is and assess it. Conversely,
review of the work needs to cease at some point in order for it to be developed.
The two activities may be coordinated, but are individual operations.
It is worthwhile noting that these activities may also be engaged by different
individuals. The critique is able to be independent of the theorist or designer who
originated the work but may no longer be involved in development. Conversely,
the developer of the theorem or built form may not be the critic. The benefits to
having different individuals in these roles include an understanding that each line of
inquiry that is pursued by either theorizing or criticism may be perceived in a clear
and strong manner, yet the availability of communication between the parties and
the resulting time lapses are possible detriments to the combination. Even though
theorizing is different from the theorems exercised in design studios, the relationship
between the designer and the studio critic serves as a good reflection of this situation.
Learning to operate as a theorist, designer and critic demands that an individual
becomes skilled at shifting between clarifying, expressing and analyzing, keeping
clearly focused on the goals of each activity.
Because these theorems and built work become manifestations separable from
the perspectives that aided their formation and more than one person may be
involved, their interpretation can—and often does—take place without regard to
the original intentions that created them. The number of perspectives that may be
engaged distinguishes theorizing from criticism: theorizing builds on one line of
inquiry to develop a single, coherent clarification but criticism is free to make
assessments from any view. Statements of or knowledge about the worldviews that
helped generate the work may be acknowledged but are not needed for any evalua-
tion. The critic’s views, which may be completely different from those that helped
make the scrutinized piece, provide the framework for any review. The ability of
criticism to shift to various belief systems or other lines of inquiry enables it to
The place of theory in the discipline 119

provide a rigorous and thorough analysis and evaluation. These differences show a
flexibility available to the critic, which creates a power that is almost omniscient.
While criticism is able to use any line of inquiry available, employing the same
one in the theorizing and its criticism provides a way of reviewing the thinking
from a shared set of values and beliefs. This mutual basis enables the review to
examine the work in the terms that have been used for its development. Assessments
are made with an acceptance of the assumptions of the endeavor rather than
introducing a review from a different perspective. This judging is guided by over-
arching questions such as “does this criticism contribute to this approach in a
meaningful way?” or “how can this critique make this endeavor clearer or stronger?”
By working from the views on which the theorizing is based, the criticism avoids
discussions introduced by differing perspectives and is able to remain focused on
the heart of the work. This concentration enables the continued development of the
work as the review assists in refining its progress and potential, at least temporarily
accepting the premise of the theorizing to contribute to the theorizing.
Theorizing that is subjected to criticism based on a different perspective creates a
situation in which understandings of the clarifying activity and the review may be at
odds with one another. These differences open the theorizing to alternative views,
interrogating the development through a contrast in assumptions. It is possible that
reflections arising from another set of beliefs support the theorizing and increase
how the breadth of the work is understood. However, these reviews may also be in
conflict with some or all of the theorizing, creating a situation in which the
development of the work introduces an awareness of either the formation of a
counterargument and resiliency in its work or the need for adaptation. This kind of
evaluation is directed by broader questions such as “does this critique introduce
alternative views that may be worthwhile and plausible for this endeavor to consider?”
or “does this critique alter or change understandings of this or other perspectives?”
Such a review opens the evaluation to the work at hand as well as the value of this
way of thinking. Questions raised in a critique can affect and even halt or reverse
the development of the theorizing if the responses lack merit or coherency. Replies
that are resolute and promising, however, may persuade critics to accept the per-
spective offered. Because strong, rational and consistent work endures, the different
views of the theorizing and the criticism may be played out in a way that achieves
conversion or compromise. Refusal to reach any resolution may also occur, as the
belief systems may contrast in ways that deny and dismiss alternate views altogether.

The nature of criticism

Linking criticism with theorizing can be argued to create stronger developments
by helping direct the course of the work; however, it can also be seen to add
complexity to the endeavor because any review includes the possibility of intro-
ducing myriad issues that may or may not aid the theorist or be of assistance to the
process or product. Because of the wide variety of perspectives and concerns that
are able to be employed or addressed in any critique, there seem to be countless
120 The place of theory in the discipline

potential directions and emphases for the review to take. The ability of a critic to
adopt any worldview in order to evaluate is a powerful position and the breadth of
the possible positions to take seems almost limitless. Exploring what this means for
reflecting on work discloses the role of values and beliefs in criticism and how
reviews are shaped from the instant they begin. In addition, explorations about the
level of completeness, claims to authority, and place in the larger dialogue of
the discipline help disclose the nature and breadth of criticism, allowing its role to
be better explained. Without this understanding, criticism can be seen as an activity
that has an uncontrollable dominance.
Values are known to be present from the very outset of a review as criticism
begins with the act of identifying what to assess, which is a value judgment in itself.
If the critic chooses to comment on an element of the theorizing or an aspect of a
theorem or built form, there is something about the situation between the critic’s
view and the work that has engendered such a response. For example, reviewers
can address anything from the influence of standardization to the form of a building.
Such selections may be understood to stem from personal opinions of the critic, a
response to the particular views offered by the author, principled or traditional
understandings of the issues or some other provocation. Regardless of how the
criticism is triggered, commentary about the work follows and can take any
direction. The focus on certain topics rather than other ones demonstrates a critic’s
bias from the start of the engagement. Even criticism that seems to be the most
general in nature is recognized to be dependent on a wide variety of influences that
are traced to individual worldviews, the context of the discussion or other such
considerations. The presence of the values in the activity cannot be denied and
should not be dismissed.
Particular values can be a driving factor in the work of a critic, even becoming a
perspective associated with an individual. Ada Louise Huxtable is one such example.
The first architecture critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the first to write for
The New York Times, she continually reminded architects, developers and the public
about the worth of historic buildings or the problems with suburban sprawl. Her
critique focused on an attempt to influence thinking about urban development,
bringing awareness to the issue and serving as a voice for many citizens concerned
about the historic fabric of the city. Huxtable forwarded views that are transparent
about the values she holds, becoming a rallying cry for the protection of the built
environment. Her 1963 efforts to save New York’s Penn Station, captured in her
article “How to Kill a City,” stand as an important and persuasive argument.41
The variety of values, knowledge and other issues that are understood to shape
criticism can be seen to be beneficial but at the same time create a problematic
situation. Critics who are aware of a breadth of perspectives and knowledge are
able to provide a wide range of insightful input, yet the particular understandings
may be seen to alter the dialogue in a specific way. If they have limited under-
standings of a variety of beliefs and information, their reviews may even be seen to
be compromised or amateurish. Yet in either case, experience creates a situation in
which the examined work can never be seen without bias as it is one perspective
The place of theory in the discipline 121

looking at another. A level of understanding is necessary to engage in a review, yet

this comprehension comes with prejudice. While it seems as if any work should be
evaluated on its own terms, criticism is unable to dismiss the experience from
which it is generated. An awareness of this complexity not only enables criticism to
be comprehended more clearly but also reminds critics that their views and
knowledge can cast their efforts as partial and opinionated.
Recognizing the partiality of criticism signifies that this activity cannot accomplish
a definitive and comprehensive assessment. The ability to achieve such a complete
understanding is impossible as no critique can provide an evaluation from every
conceivable view. Shumaker realizes this limitation, stating “that the critical goal—a
full, evaluated apprehension of works, periods, movements, conventions, techniques,
and the like—is, practically speaking, unattainable.”42 To provide an all-inclusive
evaluation insinuates that all perspectives are able to be explored in every possible
direction. Although this would exhaust all conceivable reviews, it is obviously an
impractical activity. Additionally, a complete criticism would need to be applied
with regard to a changing context as new events constantly modify perspectives
and understandings. Just as Gadamer notes that interpretation is dependent on the
context, criticism is similarly influenced by its circumstances. It simply cannot pre-
sent a completed commentary as the work can always be understood in a new
light. The limited nature of criticism is not a weakness, however, as it still provides
insight and direction.
Although criticism provides a partial and incomplete evaluation of a work, it is often
heeded as a view offered from an authority. This reaction may be instigated because of
an author’s willingness to listen to criticism as feedback assists in continuing the
development. It may also stem from the position of the critic, whose voice is typically
held in respect for at least the duration of the critique. If the author is to benefit from
the evaluation, she has to be open to hearing it. This automatically creates a situa-
tion in which the critic may adopt a dominant role during this event; however, this
should not be mistaken for an ongoing superiority. Knowledgeable and well-skilled
critics frequently introduce an array of ideas or considerations outside of the work
done by the author and can provide a great service in assessing the process or
product, yet this ability should not be misunderstood as a total and final authority.
It remains the work of the author to listen to an evaluation, discuss its merits and
modify the development with an awareness of the critique.
At this point, the nature of criticism can be seen to be both broad and specific as
it has the possibility to respond to any work yet does so through a particular per-
spective or context. At the level of an individual process or product, evaluations
can offer many assessments. If we are to understand the criticism on a larger scale, it
is possible to see how recognizing the values, knowledge and other issues brought
to a wider conversation of design begins the critique not by building understanding
from the beginning but entering into an ongoing discussion. The critic picks up in
the midst of a dialogue, providing remarks that not only pertain to the project but
also the context of the discipline. This perception adopts assumptions about a
variety of conditions that are contingent on time and place, including concerns
122 The place of theory in the discipline

such as the comprehension of a context for the process or project, and previous
work that helps inform the development under review.
Criticism may also be reviewed to understand more about its focus and scope.
Assessments can be directed at either a particular work or the perspective on which
it is grounded, recognizing that criticisms can have different directions or points of
focus. Concentrating on the scrutinizing of the activity or product accepts the
presuppositions upon which the work is based, yet the beliefs and values on which
the work is grounded are also able to be reviewed. In regards to the specific scope
of criticism, it is also possible to differentiate between evaluations that work from
the conditions set by the activity or those that bring an outside rubric or framework
to the discussion. In these reviews, criticism needs to be recognized as offering per-
spectives in which the work is evaluated in different ways but should not necessarily
be understood to provide a final, definitive authority.
While criticism can be seen to open an unending array of commentary, recog-
nizing that its aim is to provide intelligent discussion helps to see the activity in a
positive light. Like design, history and theory, criticism works within perspectives
and is shaped by values, contexts and histories. Yet unlike the other subjects, criticism
can shift between perspectives easily and quickly. Its purpose of intelligent discussion
leads to an interrogation that can change views, direction and scope in order to
focus on providing an evaluation of merit. This evaluation may range from the
process and the product to the perspectives, yet it can only offer partial and particular
reviews that cannot achieve authority. Regardless of what appear to be limitations,
however, this nature of criticism provides a solid and beneficial evaluative activity
for the discipline.

Theory and manifestoes

The relationship between theory and manifestoes

As public proclamations, manifestoes openly declare beliefs in an attempt to clarify
positions and even introduce change. These statements are often associated with
the subject of theory because both of these works revolve around intentions of
advancing particular views. Yet manifestoes are different in kind from the subjects
of theory, history, design and criticism because they openly embrace values and
opinion. This type of dialogue furthers a more comprehensive understanding of the
variety of expressions that are possible within the discipline yet also demonstrates
clear connections to the theoretical conversations in the field.
Throughout history, some of the most recognized manifestoes have come from
individuals who dedicate themselves to working for something better. Politicians,
business leaders, philosophers, designers and many others who reflect broadly on
their own efforts or social situations take the opportunity to devise and announce
plans or goals to improve themselves or current conditions. These proclamations
are often passionate and even radical, and the inclusion of research or intellect may
be significant pieces of the platforms. However, manifestoes may also be
The place of theory in the discipline 123

lighthearted, humorous and even naïve, working to make a point instead of clearly
and thoroughly substantiating a position. Announcing beliefs or aims does require a
certain degree of conviction or confidence as sharing this information commu-
nicates what may be privately held by a person. On the other hand, it may be
something that is not guarded or shared openly and frequently, dominating one’s
thoughts. Values and principles become open to criticism and ambitions are able to
be measured by others. While these proclamations expose views for all to see, they
can also be seen to aid in defining beliefs or setting and achieving goals as they
illuminate preferences that may otherwise remain undisclosed to even the author.
By examining these works further, it is possible to understand the role they play in
the discipline as well as how they relate to the subject of theory.

Defining a manifesto
Defined as “a public declaration or proclamation, written or spoken,” manifestoes
have been identified since ancient times as any edict or commandment that offers a
program or purpose for a collective.43 While these works usually derive from personal
experience and reflection, they are often imagined as having broad implications for
both the individual and the profession. They work not only as an announcement
of personal goals and beliefs but also as a contribution to the dialogue within the
profession, voicing sentiments about the current collective directions, values and
ideas. In this way, manifestoes become place markers as they establish the position
of an individual within a larger field.
Charles Jencks describes manifestoes as works that are intended to incite trans-
formations in Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, noting that
“[w]hen Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto he was not trying to produce a
piece of literature—nor interpret the world, as he said, but change it.”44 While
these statements are intended to introduce shifts, this understanding speaks to
the relationship of the person and the discipline because it focuses on the difference
between the individual’s ideals and her current assessment of the situation. Some
exemplary state is perceived but not yet realized. The manifesto as a place marker
becomes an indication of the distance between a person’s beliefs and goals and her
view of the present state of the discipline. Identifying such a discrepancy becomes a
kind of measure of the transformation desired.
Bridging the gap between the asserted aspirations and the current conditions is
arguably one of the challenges of the manifesto. The public declaration is a primary
step in this process. This initial move is critical as it needs to be heard, proclaiming
a position that is both striking and memorable. Manifestoes become audacious,
poetic, extreme or humorous to command attention. Jencks quips that “the ulti-
mate aim of a good manifesto” is “something to leave home for,” describing them
as “repetitive, incantatory, responding to the imperatives of history, hoping to ward
off catastrophe with magic or logic.”45 The work tries to convince an audience of
the value of a proposal or position. Clearly, an intriguing and artful argument may
have more influence than rational explanations. Jencks states:
124 The place of theory in the discipline

Manifestoes use any rhetorical tools available—rhymes, bad jokes, puns, out-
rageous untruths (think of Baudrillard)—and they always mint new metaphors,
in an attempt to persuade. When the Cathedrals were White, Le Corbusier’s
polemical book of the 1930s, was meant to instill the new white spirit into the
‘land of the timid,’ that is, Americans, New Yorkers—but a moment’s cogi-
tation would have revealed that the cathedrals were never white. Like the
Parthenon, and Greek temples which always looked white to the purist’s
wishful gaze, they were, originally, painted (which does not sound right to the
Minimalists and the jealous God).46

The recognition that manifestoes can be more persuasive than accurate embraces
opinion without apologies. Using any means to be heard is commonplace for these
declarations because clearly establishing an understanding of one’s position is a
Ulrich Conrads’ Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture appears to
equate manifestoes with plans or schemes, relating the public expression of ideals to
an agenda. For Conrads, this agenda captures the spirit of the movements within
the discipline, acknowledging a variety of historical eras each shaped and defined
by particular beliefs. Manifestoes are seen as attempts to move the discipline into
the next movement by not only advocating the new but also disparaging the
conditions that are ineffective and behind the times. Conrads states:

Anyone who in 1958 saw Hundertwasser’s Mould Manifesto against rationalism in

architecture may perhaps have reacted like the editor of this present work: he
was less surprised by the protest as such—even at this time it was impossible to
close one’s ears to the voices raised against functional architecture—than staggered
by the crass subjectivity with which the buildings of two generations were
condemned to wholesale destruction and dismissed as uninhabitable.47

Denigrating current conditions and other options is often introduced to help the
audience shift toward the position advanced by the individual. Such a tactic for
attempting to convince the public is common and recognizes that manifestoes
often demonstrate a combination of keen awareness of prevalent dialogues as well
as little regard for the agendas of other eras. It is as if the other period concerns and
discussions were uninformed and ill-conceived, or at least can be dismissed as a
contextual dilemma that vexed that particular time.
As place markers in the larger temporal context, Jencks sees a “zeitgeist” at work
in manifestoes. Common views and agendas can be identified throughout eras,
forming a collective understanding of the situation at that point in time and
working in concert to address critical issues. These issues may arise because of historical
conditions unrelated to the discipline such as population changes or political shifts,
or they may be introduced through changes directly linked to architecture such as
the introduction of new materials or the evaluation of the built environment.
These shared events and conditions do not necessarily mandate comparable
The place of theory in the discipline 125

manifestoes but they do support interpretations that may be similar in nature.

Additionally, any public discussion of these views, either written or spoken, con-
tinues the conversation and generates like ideas. Manifestoes may be individual and
unique; however, because of a common context and discussions within it, most
manifestoes within an era may be seen to have shared concerns and perspectives.

The connections of manifestoes and theorizing

Because a manifesto involves making a declaration that defines an individual’s
position and theorizing seeks to clarify a particular line of inquiry, a general glance
at these works may perceive them to have similarities as both advance and support
a specific perspective that is grounded on a belief system and incorporates values.
But significant distinctions can also be recognized as manifestoes may not clarify
and theorizing may not involve a proclamation. These particular distinctions are
important as they demonstrate a difference of the type of activity—one focuses on
communicating a position while the other consists of developing an explanation. The
two purposes respond to needs that are different in kind, shifting the reason for each of
the endeavors. In the distinctions between theorizing, designing and critiquing, the
activities of clarifying, making and evaluating are able to be identified independently,
although they share strong similarities in their efforts to contribute to a development.
The activity of proclaiming, on the other hand, works to communicate. These
activities are not mutually exclusive, which sets up a different kind of relationship as
two purposes may be combined. The work occurs simultaneously, but two different
goals are addressed. We are able to clarify through a public declaration if desired,
meeting two agendas in a joint endeavor. Theorizing and manifestoes may work in
tandem, with possibilities of each helping to support the work of the other.
If these two activities are engaged simultaneously, a manifesto can be understood
to operate in a way that documents an activity of theorizing. An individual has the
opportunity to be able to advocate for a theorem and share this publicly in order to
champion this explanation. In many ways, we could argue that all theorems may
be perceived as perspectives that are believed and supported by the individual who
authors it and then advances through its documentation, shifting this work toward
a manifesto. It is at this point that the different purposes may overlap, achieving
both simultaneously. This possibility allows us to recognize that the level of pro-
moting any theorem may be widely interpreted, ranging from clarifications that are
expressed as relatively understated positions or expressed with vigor. Regardless of
the combination, two purposes are able to be present and pursued simultaneously.
However, a theorem is not a compulsory component of a manifesto and
the communication of a manifesto is not a required dimension of theorizing. While
manifestoes address many issues and conditions in lucid ways, the purpose of these
works is to make a proclamation rather than contribute to the development of a
line of inquiry. In addition, the activity of theorizing is not something that needs to
be announced. The possible connection of these two activities does not merge
their identities or purposes.
126 The place of theory in the discipline

Because manifestoes are not necessarily documenting new lines of inquiry, these
proclamations may revisit past beliefs and agendas. They do not need to provide
any explanation, nor do they have to identify any pattern or problem with a pattern.
Individuals can choose to promote any principle or program, regardless of whether
or not it has been previously discussed. Manifestoes identify ideas and programs
that are appropriated from others, recycled from previous times, merged between
various parties, or invented anew. This contrasts with theorizing that extends an
investigation, contributing original understandings. While we should realize that
manifestoes may include documentations of theorizing, most proclamations do not
center on this potential.
Manifestoes may even be seen to work against theorizing. As position statements
that are designed to influence, manifestoes are able to concentrate on developing a
persuasive argument rather than a carefully researched and supported development.
Thorough research may help establish a manifesto, but it is not a required element
and may even be overlooked as popular impressions have more influence in this
kind of communication. That is, if manifestoes work to advance particular views,
starting from a position of common beliefs—even misconceptions—rather than
working to build a studied foundation may serve as an effective way to bring others
into the discussion. By employing techniques such as humor, wit and exaggeration in
order to convince, these works can become marketing pieces, focused on converting
a following through almost any means possible. While theorizing may also persuade
and could even be argued to be promotional, the essence of the activity is to clarify.
Developing a clear line of inquiry may work to convince, but the primary concern
is shedding light on a situation and disclosing its nature, whatever that may be.

Theory and other writings

The relationship of theory to other writings

The examination of the various relationships of the subject of theory has worked to
help establish a solid basis for understanding the various discussions in the field.
History, design, criticism and even manifestoes are distinguishable from theory, and
the ability to identify these bodies allows us to grasp the nature of these entities. The
activities and the relationships between them can be clearly identified. This work
begins to lay out possibilities for understanding how these subjects describe the
various endeavors in design, yet there are still other kinds of works that are just as
influential and can be seen to be a part of this system. Without creating strict
categorizations or boundaries but rather continuing to explore how various topics
are linked through similar and different traits, we can look at a variety of other
writings to continue to develop a broad view of the composition of the discipline.
It can be surprising to find that numerous writings commonly discussed as part
of the subject of theory actually have little relation to the activity of theorizing.
Commentary on a building can be offered, a review of the state of the profession can
be made, or reflections about issues of interest can be expressed. While these pieces
The place of theory in the discipline 127

can be powerful or receive considerable attention throughout the profession, they

may not necessarily be a documentation of theorizing or other related activities.
Probably the types of writings most frequently associated with the subject of
theory are those on conversations or reflections on architecture and its nature.
Louis I. Kahn speaks of light, shadow and materials in Between Silence and Light:
Architecture in the Spirit of Louis I. Kahn, which is a compilation of essays written by
the architect and assembled by John Lobell. The prose that Kahn offers provides
descriptive explanations of ways in which architecture and its elements can be
perceived. This comprehension allows the readers to gain a knowledge about this
architect’s outlook. Similarly, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino proposes fictional,
imaginative cities that have been the source of considerable conversation among
architects. In his book The Necessity for Ruins, J.B. Jackson observes the evolu-
tionary change in the design responses to the house and car in a chapter entitled
“The Domestication of the Garage.”48 His reflection notes how the importance of
the connection between individuals and their means of transportation has adapted the
architecture. Jackson’s perception of the growing priority of the vehicle in the
everyday lives of Americans and the way in which the traditional house is modified
is a wonderful commentary on the events. While this view could possibly be used
as support for some kind of theorizing, in this context the essay seems to operate as a
compelling observation. While there is an interest in these writings, they do not
document instances of theorizing because they do not necessarily identify a pattern or
problem in a pattern, nor does the work seem to clarify in a way that seems to seek
accuracy with the situation. They are also not historical narratives because they do
not explain past accounts, they are not critiques as they do not evaluate, and they are
not manifestoes because they do not share beliefs. These works can be understood
simply as descriptive essays that contribute to a rich conversation about design.
Similarly, the vast majority of architecture monographs documenting the work
of a particular architect or firm typically aim to establish a record of their production.
While the products can be of every shape and size or even different stages of
completion, the purpose is to detail the collective results instead of forwarding
the theorizing on which the work is based. However, some monographs include the
approaches or perspectives of the designer or firms. These statements may be
theorems, such as Michael Graves’ “A Case for a Figurative Architecture” in the first
volume of his work. This essay operates as an explanation for his approach to
design but does so in fewer than three pages.
While writings such as these are often associated with the subject of theory,
making the effort to recognize distinctions aids in gaining understandings of the
works and clarifying the larger field of discourse. A careful review of documents to
disclose their compositions enables this elucidation to happen. Identifying the pattern
or problem in a pattern is one fundamental step, which quickly eliminates analyses
of specific constructions as well as the descriptive commentary on design. For
example, Huxtable’s discussion of an individual building presents a particular concern
rather than detecting a larger system or its interruption. Elements and characteristics
of theorizing are also able to be reviewed, holding these as standards. Analysis of a
128 The place of theory in the discipline

single construction fails to establish a generalizable and abstracted comprehension,

as seen in architecture criticisms and descriptions such as Jackson’s perspective of
the garage. Italo Calvino’s discussions of imagined cities may not be considered to
be offered to be accurate with the world, obvious in its fictional nature. In these
ways, writings can be examined and evaluated in regards to how they relate to the
subject of theory. Because the idea of “centers and edges” is more beneficial than
boundaries, a move toward this kind of assessment does not need to result in
definitive categorization but does help shed light on the context of the subject of
theory in architecture. Clearly, there is a considerable amount of writing that is not
theoretical, although it may be commonly associated with the subject.
This broad overview of how various writings relate to the subject of theory
shows that there are numerous assumptions about architectural texts that need to
be explored and reconsidered. The critical lesson is that each work deserves to be
assessed in regards to its purpose, understanding that different documents play dif-
ferent roles and respond to a wide range of concerns. Any writing that documents
the activity of theorizing does not necessarily indicate a particular worth or entitled
status, but rather indicates the search for clarification. Writings that offer something
other are necessary and of value to the profession, but need to be understood for
that value and not mistaken for a theoretical work. Writings that advance theorems
may take on many topics and forms, ranging between historical views to structural
conventions or from unquestioned processes to the latest deliberations of the field.
By discussing and explicating these works, it is possible to help them to be less
mysterious and more accessible. In turn, this move has the power to strengthen the
role of theory in architecture as it identifies this endeavor and differentiates it from
other activities.

The connections of relationships

When the relationships between theorizing and other topics are considered as a
composition, we are confronted with a complex system of operations that are a
significant part of the work in architecture. Our examination of the relationships
between theorizing and each of the subjects of history, design, criticism, manifestoes
and other writings has provided a way to focus on some of the individual con-
nections in this system, but these aspects are recognized to have many variables
even when there are strong similarities between the subjects. For example, similarities
between the narratives of history and the lines of inquiry in theorizing may be
evident, but there still remains a number of notable distinctions between them that
leads to different ways in which this connection can play out. When many subjects
are assembled together, the options become even greater. Relationships between
theorizing and design, which range between close connections to no connection at
all, make this situation even more unwieldy. The entire system appears to be difficult,
if not impossible, to describe or map.
Although describing this system has its challenges, attempting to conceptualize it
is beneficial because it helps us envision a general sense of how it works as well as
The place of theory in the discipline 129

identify its critical aspects. Our ability to see the system as a web of relationships that
may be interpreted and employed in different ways sheds light on the flexibility
involved. We can imagine an overall structure that allows for but does not require
specific connections, either between or within subjects. The entire constellation
can be perceived as relationships that work as different layers with the options for
many internal and external links. Yet the meaning and purpose of the subjects can
be seen to serve as the dependable, primary elements that give strength to the
overall configuration. In this way, the subjects act as the conceptual anchors of the
system. Our ability to define and identify these subjects creates strong focal points,
allowing the connections to be less consequential and embrace their capacity to
provide myriad possibilities. In this way, the looseness of the system becomes a
strength as it allows for various options that can be determined by individual
endeavors. If we clearly understand the purpose of each subject and are able to
define, identify and employ it, our ability to maneuver within the system can be
powerful and meaningful. Our enlightened comprehension of theorizing provides
a way to effectively understand and construct this topic.
While the system is far too complex and flexible to describe in detail, what is
essential is our ability to comprehend its general nature and understand what is
gained by a better grasp of its pieces. By seeing the subjects as well-defined elements
and accepting the flexibility of the connections, we are able to better engage in
operations in a way that allows for concentration on areas of interest while simul-
taneously maintaining cognizance of the whole. While we cannot definitively
understand the operations or composition of the complete system but we can be
conscious of it, it is possible for us to better navigate our work because we realize
the purpose of the subjects within a larger context. We are able to advance parti-
cular efforts with an awareness of how these endeavors may relate to other subjects
in the system, no matter how complicated it is. The ability to perceive our
endeavors from both the overarching and specific views gives us an understanding
at both the macro and micro levels, enabling us to grasp how our engagement
affects the entirety.

1 Interestingly, “Theory of Structures” is a common title for texts that explain approaches
for the design of structures, as seen in Peter Marti’s Theory of Structures: Fundamentals,
Framed Structures, Plates and Shells (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2013),
Stephen Timoshenko and D. Young’s Theory of Structures (New York: McGraw-Hill,
1965), and also R.S. Khurmi’s Theory of Structures (New Delhi: S. Chand Publishing,
2015), to name a few that have been published in the last few decades.
2 Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (New York: Museum of
Modern Art, 1966), 13.
3 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 13.
4 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 13.
5 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 16.
6 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 16.
7 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 14.
130 The place of theory in the discipline

8 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 23 and 34, begin discussions about “both-and”
and the “double-functioning element” respectively, but these are just two of many
alternate observations Venturi discusses in the text.
9 “History.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.
10 Peter Collins, Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture, 1750–1950, 2nd edn (Montreal:
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998), 30.
11 Collins, Changing Ideals, 30.
12 John Hancock, “Between History and Tradition: Notes Toward a Theory of
Precedent,” Harvard Architectural Review (New York: Rizzoli, 1986), 65.
13 Hancock, “Between History and Tradition,” 65.
14 Hancock, “Between History and Tradition,” 65.
15 Collins, Changing Ideals, 30.
16 Sir Banister Fletcher, rev. by J.C. Palmes, Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture,
18th edn (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975) and David Watkin, A History of
Western Architecture, 2nd edn (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996).
17 Katherine Wentworth Rinne, The Waters of Rome: Aqueducts, Fountains and the Birth of
the Baroque City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 67.
18 Katherine Wentworth Rinne, The Waters of Rome: Aqueducts, Fountains and the Birth of
the Baroque City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 66–7.
19 Sigfried Gidieon’s Space, Time and Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press, 1941) argues that Modernism’s connection of interior to exterior
differentiates this work from past architecture.
20 Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, 3rd edn, rev. and enlarged
(New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992), 7.
21 “Design,” v., Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. and
“Design,” n., Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.
22 Peter G. Rowe, Design Thinking (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1998), 39.
Rowe paraphrases Thorndike in this discussion, which employs a modern definition of
architecture as a problem-solving exercise.
23 William Peña and Steven Parshall, Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer,
4th edn (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001), 18.
24 Jon Lang’s Creating Architectural Theory (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987)
discusses the promises of an objective approach to architecture following the failure of
25 Lang, Creating Architectural Theory, 45.
26 Rowe, 50.
27 Tim McGinty, “Design and the Design Process,” in Introduction to Architecture, ed. James
C. Snyder and Anthony J. Catanese (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1979),
28 Rowe discusses information processing theory in Design Thinking, 51–74.
29 In The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (New York: Basic Books,
1982), Donald Schön explores how professionals respond to problems in a kind of
reflective conversation that negotiates between their goals and the circumstances.
30 Schön, The Reflective Practitioner, 78.
31 Bill Hillier, John Musgrove and Pat O’Sullivan, “Knowledge and Design,” Environmental
Design and Research Association Conference, 1972.
32 Michael Oakeshott, On Human Conduct (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 1.
33 Ana Miljacki, Amana Reeser Lawrence and Ashley Schafer, “2 Architects 10 Question
on Program Rem Koolhaas + Bernard Tschumi,” Praxis: Journal of Writing + Building,
Issue 8 (United States: Garrity Printing, 2006), 7.
34 Bernard Tschumi Architects, “Approach,” Bernard Tschumi Architects. Bernard Tschumi
35 Tobin Siebers, The Ethics of Criticism (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988), 25.
The place of theory in the discipline 131

36 “Criticism.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.
37 Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. edn (New York:
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38 Wayne Shumaker, Elements of Critical Theory (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
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39 Shumaker, Elements of Critical Theory, 12–13.
40 Shumaker, Elements of Critical Theory, 25.
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42 Shumaker, Elements of Critical Theory, 29.
43 “Manifesto.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.
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45 Jencks, “The Volcano and the Tablet,” 6.
46 Jencks, “The Volcano and the Tablet,” 7.
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48 J.B. Jackson, The Necessity for Ruins (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980),

The purpose of this investigation of the subject of theory is to establish a clear and
useful understanding of it, which aids in engaging in the activity of theorizing and
the production of theorems. While it may be argued that explicit knowledge of the
subject is not necessary for theorizing to occur—and indeed, past events demon-
strate that this is the case—a greater familiarity with the subject helps to support the
endeavor. Recognizing what constitutes the critical pieces of theorizing and its
qualities enables us to develop a set of guidelines that can facilitate new theoretical
compositions. While it needs to be realized that there is no single approach to
theorizing, establishing an outline opens possibilities for clearly identifying and
addressing key elements and characteristics that assist the pursuit and formation of this
work. What follows is a compilation of items that may serve as a kind of directive for
our ability to recognize and engage in theorizing. The substance and timelines, of
course, will change with each venture.

A checklist for theorizing

Take time to reflect on your observations of the world

Theorizing can only start to happen when an individual notices some pattern or
problem with a pattern in the world. To begin theorizing, we need to take the time
to look at our environment, studying it in a new light. It is the pattern or problem in
a pattern that becomes the clarification to be deliberated.
Theorizing that is meaningful and worthwhile to us connects to what we find to
be important or even non-negotiable in design. If we tune in to what we observe,
we are able to identify what it is about the situation or conditions that is critical
Engaging in theorizing 133

and needs to be addressed. Patterns or problems in patterns that are not of interest
will be those that we are most likely to not sustain. However, observations are
almost limitless, and may range from issues such as space and form, materials or even
cultural and social forces and the environment. By looking carefully at what we care
about, a worthwhile search to comprehend and clarify a topic can be identified.
Theorizing may be the conscious goal of our work but it should be recognized
as something that cannot be rushed. It usually occurs with intermittent attention
because building a sense of the pattern or problem in a pattern happens over time
and through experience. The activity often seems to begin passively as perceptions
seem to be developed in an indirect fashion through many different instances of
observing the same thing in different situations. Allowing for thoughtful reflection
is vital, working to assess contexts and see the possibilities that may be present but
are not necessarily overt. The breadth of the topics may be daunting—Dolores
Hayden’s examination of the role that gender has played in American residential
architecture since World War II is substantial, for example. Yet regardless of the
breadth or depth of materials already compiled on the topic, those observations that
are of particular interest are worth examining because it is what we find intriguing.
If we are identifying theorems rather than constructing them, we need to
recognize the pattern or problem in the pattern within the theorem. This detection
provides reason and direction for the theorizing. Without the presence of this
observation, the theorem does not include a clarification that gives purpose to the

Become familiar with writings that address the same or

similar observations
An interest in a particular subject typically leads to the exploration of it, learning
what has been established about the topic. Researching related theorems to study
the current work and how it has developed provides a basis that will allow us to
compare ideas on the topic and understand the differences. By knowing the theorems
that have already been developed, we become more aware of the situation and can
use the work to further our own clarifications. The phrase “standing on the shoulders
of giants” serves as an appropriate characterization of this endeavor as advancements
are achieved by developing the theorizing from a knowledge of strong and recent
theorems instead of competing with these existing works.
It may be that our theorizing is close to other theorems but there are certain
distinctions, such as alterations in the basic assumptions or particular perspectives
about the situation. New theorizing can be distinct by combining and advancing
several theorems, for example, which leads to different views and understandings.
Working from and with the production of others provides greater opportunity to
advance the theorizing, focusing on new development.
Identifying theorizing rather than constructing it requires that we know similar
theorems and can recognize new developments that are different from the existing
field. While we may not have complete knowledge at hand, our responsibility in
134 Engaging in theorizing

reviewing the material is necessary to understand how the new activities are asso-
ciated with the prevailing discussions. Specifically, recognizing similar theorems and
understanding the place of the new work establishes a clear body of work.

Articulate how the theorizing differs from ones that are similar
While it is important to be cognizant of related investigations, it is just as critical to
be able to clearly differentiate the new theorizing from others because the activity
of theorizing does not repeat or rephrase existing theorems. Theorizing is defined
by its ability to offer original clarifications, working toward increasing and
expanding explanations of the world. Since theorizing is not redundant, look for
what is innovative about your clarifying and check to ensure there are distinctions
when compared to other similar theorems.
If the theorizing does not differ, it becomes a repetition of existing work. While
it may be a new investigation to a particular individual, be aware that the knowl-
edge of the field is not expanding. Simply rewording an idea does not introduce
new theorizing. The work may be something that is new for your understandings
and employing established theorems is common and continues to test the ideas.
However, it is critical to recognize the difference between rephrasing and applying
existing theorems and developing original theorizing.
Recognizing theorizing requires that we are able to identify how an activity of
theorizing is different from existing bodies of similar work. The clarifying must be
distinct, advancing a new understanding.

Review the theorizing for its ability to be general in nature

rather than specific
Theorizing needs to address those ideas that can be broadly understood rather than
the particular or individual situations. Examine the clarifying activity to ensure that
it addresses issues that are able to be comprehended and applied generally. While
theorems may speak to conditions such as urban contexts, for example, a theorem
would not attend to a specific locale. Focusing on a single event is a problem to
be solved, while concentrating on a more common issue is theorizing. Extending
the previous example, it is possible to imagine that the green space between
Chestnut and Market Streets in downtown St. Louis may prompt a local
design investigation but it is not theorizing; however, clarifying the role of green
space in urban areas is able to be seen as a broader topic that may be part of an
activity of theorizing. The general understandings are able to support the indivi-
dual design while this specific application employs the theorizing, but the general
and the specific are able to be distinguished from one another and operate
If we are identifying the activity of theorizing, a clarification that is general in
nature is necessary. Addressing a broad understanding rather than a specific one
ensures that the clarifying is widely applicable.
Engaging in theorizing 135

Review the theorizing for its ability to be abstract in nature

rather than connected to particular phenomena
Theorizing is not directly connected to concrete elements or dependent on physical
pieces. Assess the work to verify that it is free from these constraints, able to be
explained conceptually or intellectually without material components. By definition,
theorizing is separate from the environment and the thought can stand indepen-
dently. We can simply perform a quick check to ensure that the clarifying activity
is detached from a physical situation.
If we are identifying theorizing, its abstract character needs to be noted through
work that is disconnected from particular phenomena. Ensuring that the clarifying
is abstract in nature achieves an intellectual flexibility because the thought is sepa-
rated from the substance.

Review the work for its ability to be communicated in different ways

Theorizing is not something that needs particular language or phrasing in order to
convey its ideas. Investigate other ways of sharing the information, working to
focus on the concepts rather than a specific style of stating or presenting the issue.
In addition, constructing descriptions and explanations that capture the theorizing
in a variety of modes helps strengthen the work as it provides the opportunity to
seek out different approaches for its communication.
Our ability to recognize the activity of clarifying has to be reviewed for its ability
to be translated easily into other phrasing. Theorizing cannot depend on particular
words but includes ideas that are able to be described in different ways.

Review the work for accuracy with the world

The purpose of theorizing is to clarify, shedding light on something or bringing it
out of confusion or mystery. The definition of this activity is to offer a straight-
forward assessment or clear understanding. This is identified by how it correlates
with the situation, or its accuracy in describing conditions. Inconsistencies do not
clarify or explain but confuse, and this works in opposition to an elucidation of
the world.
If we are to examine theorems for accuracy with the world, we have to review
how the theorem reflects the actual situation. An honest and clear connection
between theorizing and the environment is demanded.

Test the work

As temporary stopping points in theorizing, theorems momentarily arrest the
thought and establish a basis from which the thinking can be applied and evaluated.
The clarifying is able to be judged by putting it into operation and seeing how it
plays out, demonstrating whether or not the perception remains accurate with the
136 Engaging in theorizing

conditions. For example, it is possible to theorize about passive heating and cooling
methods for a specific climatic zone and experiment with these proposals. While
this seems to be more objective in nature, it is also feasible to study theorizing that
addresses the role of touch as opposed to sight in design. Ideas that manifest this
view can be proposed and evaluated, exploring the primacy of the senses in archi-
tecture. Regardless of the type of theorizing, assessing the work needs to be
accomplished to determine whether or not it is salient.
An identification of theorizing includes the possibility of testing this work.
Understanding how this evaluation can be accomplished is necessary.

Remember that theorizing never ends

Theorems mark occasions in which the thought process pauses to be documented
or even employed. Frequently, it may be recognized that there are extended periods
between occasions of theorizing, allowing theorems to be in place and tested for
more time than is devoted to theorizing. Yet theorizing can always be revisited and
started again, picking up on the latest state of the work and continuing to clarify.
By understanding that theorizing is a continual process of stops and starts, it is
possible to focus on advancing the clarifying as well as be comfortable with interludes
that characterize this work.
Recognizing the activity of clarifying needs to examine the work to see that it is
something that can continue. Having an open question is an essential aspect of

Be aware of and respect the entire iterative process

that involves theorizing
Theorizing starts from observations. A theorem is the written record of this
activity, and testing the theorem occurs through various applications of the the-
orem. All stages of this process may happen in quick spurts of time or over
extended eras. However, each phase needs to be halted—at least momentarily—
to begin the next. By being cognizant of the need to continually move
forward in this unending sequence, it is possible to evaluate the development of
the work and perceive strengths and weaknesses for improvement. This is espe-
cially critical in the shift between theorizing and theorems as it is common for
individuals to spend great lengths of time thinking but not attempting to capture
the ideas in writing. By engaging in the next step, assessments of the previous
step are able to occur and possible advancements are identified. Iterations
improve the work.
This checklist is not a definitive list that needs to be followed or addressed for
the construction of a theorem but is instead meant to be some beginning reminders
for aid in theorizing. Much of these characteristics may be met without great effort,
such as confirming that the clarifying is abstract or not bound by a specific language
or description. Some of them, however, may involve considerable struggle.
Engaging in theorizing 137

Exploring similar theorems is an ongoing endeavor and committing to the iteration

of the phases may be difficult as it always seems there is more that can be done
in each step. Yet these suggestions hopefully shed light on ways to engage in
theorizing and keep any creating and its results clear and strong. As a powerful
activity, theorizing that is able to provide quality guidance for the discipline is
always sought and welcomed.

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A Scientific Autobiography, 77 criticism, xii, 5, 17, 85–9, 102, 115–23,

Alte’s Museum, 39 126, 128
anthology, x, xi, 6–7 culture, 1, 3–5, 12, 23–4, 29, 31–2, 40,
Archer, Bruce, 102 44–7, 51, 53, 60, 65–73, 77, 79, 88,
Asimow, Morris, 103 91–2, 115, 133
avant-garde, 45
Damisch, Herbert, 72
Baudrillard, Jean, 72, 124 decorated sheds, 31
belief system, x, xi, 13, 15, 17, 36–7, 43–4, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for
50–81, 93, 118–19, 125 (see also paradigm Manhattan, 5, 71, 73
and worldview) design
behavioral science, 23, 64, 74, 102 as an activity, x, 1, 8, 28, 32–3, 52, 64–5,
67, 79, 86, 91, 100–15, 125–26
Calvino, Italo, 127–8 as a building, 7, 10, 15, 28–9, 32, 38–9,
chronology, 3, 4, 7, 89–94 45–7, 64, 73, 79, 86, 95, 100, 104,
CIAM (Congrès Internationaux 106–9, 127, 134, 136
d’Architecture Moderne), 97 as a subject, x–xii, 1, 5, 10, 17, 33, 38,
climate, 45–6, 65, 94, 136 52, 54, 64–5, 67–8, 71, 74–5, 78,
Collins, Peter, 90, 92–3 84–6, 89, 92, 98–115, 122, 126,
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 128, 132
87–8 design process, 5, 28, 65, 67, 79, 86,
conjecture-analysis, 101, 106–7, 109, 112 100–15, 117
Conrads, Ulrich, 124 designer, xi, 1, 2, 5–8, 10, 15, 18, 19, 39,
constructivism, 53–4, 57, 60–4, 68, 70–1, 45, 52, 54, 64–5, 67, 68, 71, 75, 89,
73–4, 76–8, 80, 115 101–9, 115
context, 3, 7, 9, 12, 26, 31, 39, 45–6, 61, dialectic, 46, 60, 61, 68, 70
67, 71–2, 78–9, 87–8, 95, 99–100, 104, doctrine, 22, 23 (see also ideology)
106, 108, 110, 120–2, 124, 134 duck, 31
critic, 10, 17, 24, 45, 51, 87, 116,
118–21 economics, 60, 67–70
Critical Regionalism, 45–7 Einstein, Albert, 59
Critical Theory, 5, 16, 57, 59–60, 62–4, Eisenman, Peter, 18, 71
68–9, 71–4, 80, 97, 116 epistemology, 36–7, 54–61
Index 143

ethics, 1, 50, 74 Lang, Jon, 102–3

ethnic, 60 language, 21, 23, 31–2, 36, 41–2, 44, 75,
79, 89, 135–6
Fletcher, Sir Banister, 94 Learning from Las Vegas, 32
framework, 3, 7, 12, 14, 23, 37, 52, 54, 76, Leatherbarrow, David, 5
80, 85, 92, 98, 105, 108, 114, 118, 122 Le Corbusier, 38–9, 124
(see also perspective) Lefaivre, Liliane, 45
Frampton, Kenneth, 5, 45–7, 68, 72–3, 97 LeFebvre, Henri, 72
Foucault, Michel, 14, 72 Lincoln, Yvonna, 36, 51, 56, 68–9, 76
function in architecture, 3–4, 78, line of inquiry, 25–6, 38–9, 44, 52, 54, 63,
87–8, 124 65, 79–80, 85, 93–4, 97, 102, 110,
117–19, 125–26
Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 121 Livingston, Paisley, 22, 24–5, 37, 62, 85
Gang, Jeanne, 52–4, 71 Lobell, John, 127
gender, 60, 63, 68–72, 80–81
geometry, 38–9, 95–6 manifestoes, xii, 5, 72, 86–89, 122–28
Gideon, Sigfried, 97 mathematics, 38–9
Graves, Michael, 127 Marx, Karl, 68, 123
Guba, Egon, 36, 51, 56, 68–9, 76 McGinty, Tim, 103
methodology, 36, 54, 56, 59–61
Hancock, John, 91 Murcutt, Glenn, 18, 65–8
“hang together,” 13, 15–6, 64, 80, 98
Hayden, Dolores, 18, 68–70, 72, 97, 133 narrative, 53–4, 71–3, 76, 89–94, 96–8, 100,
Hays, K. Michael, 6, 73 127–28
hermeneutics, 9, 45, 57, 61, 68 National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing, 32
heuristics, 101, 107–8, 110 Nesbitt, Kate, 6
Hillier, Bill, 106 Newton, Sir Issac, 42, 57–9
as a record or perspective, 7, 16, 17, Oakeshott, Michael, 29, 109, 118
22–6, 28, 31, 38–9, 53, 58, 61–3, objectivity, 15, 50, 57, 64–8, 74, 76–7, 102,
76–9, 88–100, 124, 127–28 116, 136
as a subject, xii, 5, 17, 26, 43, 47, 51, OMA, 52–3
70–1, 77, 79, 85–100, 107, 115, ontology, 36–7, 54–7, 59
122–3, 126
historian, 1, 45, 69, 91, 93, 95–8, 112 Palace of the Assembly at Chandigarh, 39
Holl, Steven, 71 Palladio, Andrea, 38
Huxtable, Ada Louise, 120, 127 Pallasmaa, Juhani, 18, 32–4
patterns, 18, 29–35, 69, 88, 90, 126–27,
ideology, see doctrine 132–33
inductive method, 2 paradigm, 17, 21, 36–7, 43–4, 50–81, 84,
Invisible Cities, 127 116 (see also belief system and worldview)
Izenour, Steven, 18, 31–2 Peña, William, 102
perspective, 3, 5, 7–8, 10–7, 19, 23–6, 34,
Jackson, J.B., 127–28 47, 50–1, 53–5, 57, 61–4, 66–8, 70–4,
Jencks, Charles, 123–24 76–8, 80–1, 84–5, 87–8, 92–9, 101, 103,
106, 110–11, 116–22, 125, 127–28, 133
Kahn, Louis, 127 (see also framework)
Kepler, Johannes, 42, 57–9 Pevsner, Sir Nicholas, 100
knowledge phenomenology, 46, 68, 74
abstract, 40–1 phenomenologists, 71
explicit, 40–1, 132 philosophy, 12, 14, 17, 21–2, 36, 50–1, 55,
tacit, 40–1 72–3
Koolhaas, Rem, 5, 71–3 philosopher, 17, 25, 29, 33, 36, 74, 122
Kuhn, Thomas, 21–2 poiesis, 24
politics, 5, 12, 60, 67–9, 72, 80–1, 90, 97, 124
144 Index

politician, 122 theorist, 18–9, 22, 29, 33–4, 36, 60, 63, 71,
Popper, Sir Karl, 14–5, 22, 43, 58 74–5, 80, 92–3, 96, 109, 112, 118–19
positivism, 57–60 theorizing, xi, 12, 16–8, 22, 26–32, 34–47,
post-positivism, 57–60, 63–5, 68, 74, 76–8, 51–2, 54–6, 62, 64–5, 74–5, 78–81, 85,
80–1 89, 94, 95–6, 98–9, 109, 110–15,
post-structuralism, 68, 71–2 117–20, 125–29, 132–37
praxis, 24, 40 theory
problem-solving, 101 as a cultural or political discussion, 12
Putnam, Hilary, 22, 25 as a doctrine or ideology, 22–3
as distinct from built form, 28
race, 69 construction of, xi–xii, 5, 10, 132–7
reality, 10, 15, 17, 23, 36, 46, 50–1, 54–63, definition of, 2, 6, 13, 16–7, 21–6, 37,
65–6, 68–72, 75–6, 80 93–4
Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, grand, 63–5, 74
Housing and Family Life, 97 identification of, 2–3, 5, 8, 11–2, 14,
reflection-in-action, 105–6, 109 16–9, 21, 28–9, 84–6
relativism, 15, 61 lack of need for, 5
Rinne, Katherine Wentworth, 94–6 landscape of, xi, 5–6, 8, 10–4, 17, 19, 22,
Rittel, Horst, 101 126, 128
Rorty, Richard, 12, 80 of falsification, 22
Rossi, Aldo, 76–8 of plate tectonics, 63
Rowe, Colin, 38–9 of relativity, 59
power of, 1, 2, 12, 19, 22, 64, 94, 98,
Schendel, Mark, 52 128, 137
Schinkel, Karl, 39 role of, 2, 5–6, 11, 17, 26, 114
Schön, Donald, 10, 47, 97, 105 “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points
science, 14–5, 17, 21–23, 36, 58–9, 63–7, for an Architecture of Resistance,” 45
74, 76–8, 102, 106, 118 tradition, 57–8, 91–2, 120, 127
Scott Brown, Denise, 18, 31–2 truth, 36, 42–3, 57–8, 62, 64, 66, 70, 88,
senses, 26, 32–34, 71, 136 98, 124
Shumaker, Wayne, 116, 121 typologies, 46, 77, 108
society, 1, 5, 32, 44, 51, 61, 63, 67–9, 90, Tschumi, Bernard, 72, 113–14
94, 99, 101 Tzonis, Alex, 45
Somol, Robert, 73
Speaks, Michael, 73 Ungers, Matthias, 72
structuralism, 68, 71–2, 74
Studio Gang Architects, 52–4 values, 7–8, 10–1, 13, 16, 18–9, 26, 32–3,
style, 17, 28, 46, 78–80, 92, 102, 135 50–1, 53, 55–60, 62, 68–72, 74, 80, 89,
subjectivity, 10, 50–1, 59–61, 64, 68, 70, 102–3, 105–6, 116–17, 119–23, 125, 128
74, 80, 105, 124 Vanna Venturi House, 32
Suppe, Frederick, 41 vernacular, 31, 46, 91–2
Venturi, Robert, 18, 31–2, 86–8
Tafuri, Manfredo, 18 Villa Malcontenta (Foscari), 38
techne, 40 Villa Stein (Garches), 38
tectonics, 3, 45–7, 74 visual, 23, 34, 45, 53
The Architecture of the City, 76–7. VSBA Architects and Planners, 32
The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the
Senses, 33 Watkin, David, 94
The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Whiting, Sarah, 5, 53, 73
Essays, 38 Williams, Raymond, 22
theorema, 26 worldview, xi, 7, 11–2, 17–9, 36–7, 43, 51,
theorem, x, xi, 5, 12, 17–8, 22, 26–9, 35–8, 54, 56–9, 62–5, 68, 71, 73–6, 78, 93,
41–7, 63, 73–5, 85–9, 93–9, 109, 112–13, 117–20 (see also belief system and
117, 118, 120, 125, 127–28, 132–37 paradigm)
theoria, 24, 26, 40