1. ArchDaily
  2. Theory And History

Theory And History: The Latest Architecture and News

Download All of COAM Architecture Journal's Issues From the Last 100 Years for Free

The College of Architects of Madrid (COAM) has made the initial digitization process of their Architecture Journal public, making one of the most important and influential Spanish architectural publications of the twentieth century available to everyone. COAM is a publication known as a platform for debate, thought, and a vital resource for architects, urban planners, and professionals from other closely related sectors.

Founded in 1918 as the official publication of the Central Society of Architects, the journal ARQUITECTURA, became the first publication of the Spanish architectural press. However, the Spanish Civil War would halt its normal development, transforming the magazine, as was required by the new times, into the National Journal of Architecture. It was edited until 1946 by the Directorate General of Architecture, then eventually placed in the hands of the Ministry of the Interior.

Postmodern Post-Mortem: Why We Need To Stop Using Architecture's Most Misunderstood Word

© Giacomo Pala
© Giacomo Pala

We were hoping for it to happen in the early 2000s. We saw it coming with the opening of the exhibition “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970 – 1990” at the V&A in London in 2011. But now, after recent discussions on the umpteenth supposed “postmodern revival,” it is finally sure: the word “postmodernism” is back and it’s here to stay. But as clear as it is that the word “postmodernism” is once again fashionable, it is not really clear what we mean when using it. Indeed, this word has been used to imply every possible meaning: architects have used it to describe fashionable and “cute” designs, some critics have used it to categorize everything that is colorful, while some theorists have been using it to affirm that, because of this concept, architecture has surrendered to technology or form, becoming nothing more than a caricature of its own presupposed moral values.

Whether we agree with such commentaries or not, there is one thing that we still need to discuss: what does “postmodern” mean? And, even more urgently: what could it mean today? After all, if we have to deal once again with one of the most misinterpreted and contradictory words ever introduced in our field, we should at least discuss what it means, before using it.

4 Proven Artistic Principles That Can Help Make Better Architecture

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Enduring Principles of Art That Also Apply to Architecture."

It is safe to say that architects, academics, critics and even the public have been arguing about the merits of architectural style for centuries. Even during the course of my own career, the more general style categories of contemporary-vs-traditional have continued in an unabated battle. For better or worse, contemporary has generally won out as the default position for most schools and publications, probably because of the sheer visual entertainment value it offers, and the lucrative merits of its two stepchildren, branding and advertising.

I’d like to propose another position: that certain enduring principles of art, rather than any temporary style—and, remember, they are all temporary—should be our real architectural goal. This presumption means you must be agnostic when it comes to style and put aside any notion of an ideological stance regarding the right or wrong of your architectural preferences. There are those, of course, who say that to imagine that “my art” is better than yours, or even that I can define real art in the first place, is a fool’s errand.

I think otherwise.

Have Your Say on the Landscape of Emerging Practices With the Interactive Architectural Political Compass

If you were to identify, categorize and map the 21st century’s emergent architectural practices from the world over, all on one diagram, what would it look like? Considering how the current architectural landscape consists of several different approaches, attitudes and political stances, how would you map them without being too reductive? And how would you ensure that out of hundreds of emergent practices and firms across the globe, you don’t leave anyone out? Perhaps the Global Architectural Political Compass V 0.2 could offer a clue.

Created by Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Guillermo Fernandez-Abascal, the diagram is part of an ongoing inquiry into “the state of the art in (global) architectural practice” [1]. In 2016, Zaera-Polo explored the subject in a comprehensive essay for El Croquis titled “Well into the 21st Century” in which he set down the framework for 11 political categories that now form the compass diagram.

How to Choose an Undergraduate Architecture Thesis Topic

As architecture students head to their final year of BArch, half-crazy from years’ worth of scraped fingers, ghastly juries, sleepless nights, and a general lack of social life, they encounter the mighty problem of choosing a thesis topic. There are many subjects to choose from, but a personal interest in a particular subject is just one of the many factors that should influence this decision. Students need to ask themselves several other questions: Is the topic significant enough? Is it expansive enough? Is the project realistically doable?

The process can be daunting, for the decision has many consequences; sometimes, the choice of topic alone can mean the difference between the success and failure of a thesis. With so many factors to consider and deadlines closing in, students easily end up making decisions that they regret later. Here are eight tips to help you make an informed choice on the matter:

How a Novel Saved Notre-Dame and Changed Perceptions of Gothic Architecture

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "It’s a Book. It’s a Building. It’s a Behavioral Intervention!"

A few years ago, while visiting, or rather exploring, Notre-Dame, the author of this book found, in an obscure corner of one of the towers, this word carved upon the wall:


These Greek characters, black with age, and cut deep into the stone with the peculiarities of form and arrangement common to Gothic calligraphy that marked them the work of some hand in the Middle Ages, and above all the sad and mournful meaning which they expressed, forcibly impressed the author.

The 58-Year Evolution of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum

This article originally appeared on under the title "Wright’s Living Organism: The Evolution of the Guggenheim Museum," and is used with permission.

Standing on the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum construction site in 1957, architect Frank Lloyd Wright proclaimed, “It is all one thing, all an integral, not part upon part. This is the principle I’ve always worked toward.” The “principle” that Wright referred to is the design ideology that he developed over the course of his seventy-year career: organic architecture. At its core, that principle was an aspiration for spatial continuity, in which every element of a building would be conceived not as a discretely designed module, but as a constituent of the whole.

Although not Wright’s intention per se, it is fitting that the building he conceived of as a living organism has evolved over time. The overall integrity and character-defining spiral form have remained unchanged, but there have been a series of additions and renovations necessitated by the growth and modernization of the institution.

How Photography Helped to Dehumanize Our Cities

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "How Photography Profoundly Reshaped Our Ideas About Cities."

Early in the 19th century, an invention arrived that would change the form and function of cities for generations.

Like all new technologies, it started out rudimentary, expensive, and nearly ineffectual. But it caught many imaginations and developed dramatically, eventually reaching the point of mass accessibility. Soon enough, it took aim at the public realm, with consequences that were indirect and unintended yet profound.

It reconfigured streets. It influenced the height of buildings. It altered foot traffic. It recast the relationship between buildings and streets. It changed how people felt about their cities and changed their points of reference. It turned cities into abstractions and, in some ways, turned city-dwellers against each other. Its influence nearly complete by the close of World War I, the invention has remained fundamentally unchanged, and is still universally celebrated, to this day.

All this with the press of a button.

How Air Conditioning Helped Shape Architectural History (For Better or Worse)

This article originally appeared on Curbed as "How air conditioning shaped modern architecture—and changed our climate."

During a conversation with the New Yorker, a window washer who worked on the Empire State Building says that some of his toughest moments have been cleaning the trash that tenants toss out the windows. In his many years working on the Depression-era skyscraper, he’s wiped numerous half-empty coffee cups off window panes, and even scraped 20 gallons of strawberry preserves from the building’s facade. Tossed out in the winter, it stubbornly clung to the outside of the skyscraper.

Cracking a window open in a skyscraper seems like a quirk, especially today, when hermetically sealed steel-and-glass giants offer the promise of climate-controlled comfort. But ever since Chicago’s Home Insurance Building, considered one of the first skyscrapers, opened in 1884, the challenge of airflow, ventilation, and keeping tenants cool has been an important engineering consideration shaping modern architecture.

The great commercial buildings of the modern era owe their existence, in many ways, to air conditioning, an invention with a decidedly mixed legacy.

Architecture's "Political Compass": A Taxonomy of Emerging Architecture in One Diagram

The full political compass diagram (Version 0.1) produced by Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Guillermo Fernandez Abascal. Image © Alejandro Zaera-Polo & Guillermo Fernandez Abascal
The full political compass diagram (Version 0.1) produced by Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Guillermo Fernandez Abascal. Image © Alejandro Zaera-Polo & Guillermo Fernandez Abascal

Observing the architectural landscape today it’s clear that the type of work which is currently ascendant, particularly among young practices, is very different to what came before the financial crisis of 2008. But what, exactly, does that architectural landscape look like? In an essay titled “Well into the 21st Century” in the latest issue of El Croquis, Alejandro Zaera-Polo outlined a 21st-century taxonomy of architecture, attempting to define and categorize the various new forms of practice that have grown in popularity in the years since—and as a political response to—the economic crisis.

The categories defined by Zaera-Polo encompass seven broad political positions: The “Activists,” who reject architecture’s dependence on market forces by operating largely outside the market, with a focus on community building projects, direct engagement with construction, and non-conventional funding strategies; then there are the “Populists,” whose work is calibrated to reconnect with the populace thanks to a media-friendly, diagrammatic approach to architectural form; next are the “New Historicists,” whose riposte to the “end of history” hailed by neoliberalism is an embrace of historically-informed design; the “Skeptics,” whose existential response to the collapse of the system is in part a return to postmodern critical discourse and in part an exploration of contingency and playfulness through an architecture of artificial materials and bright colors; the “Material Fundamentalists,” who returned to a tactile and virtuoso use of materials in response to the visual spectacle of pre-crash architecture; practitioners of “Austerity Chic,” a kind of architectural “normcore” (to borrow a term from fashion) which focuses primarily on the production process, and resulting performance, of architecture; and finally the “Techno-Critical,” a group of practices largely producing speculative architecture, whose work builds upon but also remains critical of the data-driven parametricism of their predecessors.

As a follow-up to that essay, Zaera-Polo and Guillermo Fernandez-Abascal set out to apply the newly-defined categories to the emerging practices of today with a nuanced “political compass” diagram. They invited practices to respond to their categorization in order to unveil the complex interdependencies and self-image of these political stances. For the first time, here ArchDaily publishes the results of that exercise.

These Are the Best Architecture Images from the NYPL’s New Public Domain Collection

Last week the New York Public Library made over 180,000 images from their digital archives available in the public domain, and free for high-resolution download. Not only are the images available for download, but since they are in the public domain and free of any copyright restrictions, users have the freedom to get creative and alter, modify, and reuse the images in any manner they see fit. Featuring a wide variety of images including drawings, engravings, photographs, maps, postcards, and in some cases, digitized copies of entire books, the collection has been noted for fascinating historical artifacts such as a set of color drawings of Egyptian gods and goddesses, and a digitized book from the 18th century containing over 400 color plates depicting various current and historical fashion trends.

Of course, the archive also includes a significant assortment of captivating architectural images that range from everyday scenes to historic treasures. We've trawled the database to find some of the most unusual and insightful examples - read on to see a selection of the most interesting architectural images from NYPL’s digital archives.

Design Development of the Chrysler Building. Image via The New York Public Library The Bund, Shanghai in the early 1900s. Image via The New York Public Library World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. Image via The New York Public Library via The New York Public Library + 36

What Should Architecture Schools Teach Us? ArchDaily Readers Respond

Architecture is a subject that takes decades to master. Just look at the field’s consensus masters - it is not uncommon for an architect to work through his or her fifties before receiving widespread acclaim. So it should come as no surprise that architecture schools simply don’t have the time to teach students all there is to know about architecture. School is the place where future architects are given a foundation of skills, knowledge and design sensibility that they can carry with them into their careers - but what exactly that foundation should contain is still a hot debate within the field.

In an attempt to come closer to pinpointing what an education should give you, we asked a group of people with a wide range of experience as students, professionals and teachers - our readers - "what do you wish you had learned in architecture school?"

What Do You Wish You Had Learned in Architecture School?

In the early days of the architectural profession, teaching and practice were neatly aligned: the elements of the various styles could be taught and put into practice in the field. However in the 20th century, while the business of construction was becoming increasingly technocratic, architectural theory became equally pluralistic and esoteric. Ever since, the dichotomy between architectural education and practice has been a controversial subject. Many in the business say that education fails to prepare students for the real world, while some academics equally contend that architecture schools have given up too much ground to technical considerations, and no longer teach enough important theory.

In the 21st century, that dichotomy is increasingly being bridged by the internet, offering a convenient alternative to universities and practices where architects can teach themselves. With that in mind, we wanted to open a discussion up to our readers: what are the things you wish you learned in school but never had the chance? Was there an element of history and theory that is vital to your understanding of architecture that you only learned after graduation? Or perhaps a technical consideration that you had to learn the hard way?

Mies van der Rohe's Lafayette Park Named National Historic Landmark

One of the first and most successful examples of urban renewal, Detroit's 78-acre Lafayette Park is known for being the world's largest collection of works by Mies van der Rohe. Now, the mid-century modern "masterpiece" is the first urban renewal project to be declared a National Historic Landmark. This is partially due to the fact that, as Ruth Mills, architectural historian for Quinn Evans Architects told the Detroit Free Press, "Lafayette Park was one of the few urban renewal projects that's done it successfully." It is now Michigan's 41st landmark.

Havana Revisited: Postcards of the Cuban Capital Through the Years

Thanks to its privileged position as a gateway to North America and Cuba's unique political history, the architecture of the City of Havana has a rich and layered quality rarely found. In a new book edited by Cathryn Griffith, "Havana Revisited: An Architectural Heritage," this history is explored in detail through 12 essays by renowned architects, historians, scholars, preservationists, and urban planners in both Cuba and the United States and a selection of 350 color images comparing historic postcards with the city of today. The following text is the book's introduction, written by Cuban architect, urban planner and critic Mario Coyula (1935-2014).

Havana’s modest beginnings came in the sixteenth century, as the springboard for Spain’s conquest of America. When the port became the obligatory last American stop for Spanish ships making their return voyages to Europe, its significance grew until Havana had become the most important city in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. From the beginning, it was a settlement oriented toward providing services, especially that of protection. Hence, Havana became home to the most formidable system of defensive fortifications in the colonial Americas.

#wikiD: Help ArchiteXX Add Women Architects to Wikipedia

Inspired by Despina Stratigakos' essay "Unforgetting Women Architects: From the Pritzker to Wikipedia," ArchiteXX has launched #wikiD, a global event to coincide with International Women's Day on March 8. With the slogan of "Women. Wikipedia. Design," #wikiD prompts people to "write into Wikipedia women designers, architects and all those involved in the creation of our environment."

Learn more about the event and how to get involved after the break. 

King George III, an Aspiring Architect

Not sure if “manic” can be classified as an architectural style, but that is what some are choosing to describe the newly discovered, hand-drawn floor plans of a grand place envisioned by King George III. According to the British Library, the King was “passionately interested” about architecture and drew plans for a future living quarters in Kew - now a district in West London - during a time when he was suffering from severe mental illness in the late 1780s. Learn more about the King’s vision for a grand palace, here.