Architectural Theory: A Construction Site


  • Ákos Moravánszky



Around 1968 we saw the birth of a new architectural theory as the conjunction of architectural history and politically engaged architectural criticism. Not the aesthetics of architecture, but architecture itself in its structural relations with social life became the focus of attention. As a result of this development, it is no longer possible to study architectural history without a critical reflection on the method of the study itself and without a grade of interdisciplinarity. Traditional methods of historiography and iconography have been replaced by new approaches configured by psychoanalysis, deconstruction, cultural studies etc. Appropriation has become the proof of criticality both in architectural theory and in design; however, the understanding of the concepts and methods of other disciplines is basically metaphorical. The problem for a school of architecture lies not in the ‘criticality’ of the kind of architectural theory we described as emerging from the spirit of 1968, but in its discursive nature. The disciplinary specificity of architecture resists a discursive approach, and architectural students frequently question the usefulness of theory which undermines the notion of the ‘project’, without articulating a constructive proposal. Projectivity does not seem to provide an answer; its claim of performativity lacks the program to regain its organising power over contributions from other specialised disciplines and practices. Theory should focus on the terms of our discipline, which are so close to our ‘core beliefs’ regarding architecture that we usually take their meaning for granted. It would be wrong to see this focus of theory as a withdrawal into the realm of language. Indeed, after a period of theory alienating architects and the general public, it could now create a rhetoric to influence our understanding of our environment, which is itself organised on the level of language. The requirement that theory should not be directly involved in design practice, but help students to grasp the underlying problems and their historic roots, will allow theory to exert its influence on design development.

Author Biography

Ákos Moravánszky

Ákos Moravánszky has been Professor of the Theory of Architecture at the Institut gta (Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture) of ETH Zurich since June 2005. Born in Székesfehérvár, Hungary, he studied architecture at the TU Budapest. He received his doctorate at the TU Vienna in 1980. He was a Research Associate at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich and at the Getty Center in Santa Monica, California. From 1991 until 1996 he was Visiting Professor at the MIT (Cambridge, Mass.). In 2003/2004 he was Visiting Professor at the University of Applied Art in Budapest. The main areas of his research are the history of East and Central European architecture in the 19th-20th centuries, the history of architectural theory, and the iconology of building materials and constructions.