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ELIZABETH CROMLEY

Professor, Architecture
College of Arts & Sciences
239 Ryder Hall
617-373-8620

ACTIVATING ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY

World Architectural History 1, ARC 111, and 2, ARC 112, a required freshman-level course sequence in the Architecture major, surveys selected buildings, urban designs, and architectural theories in several parts of the world over a broad span of history from the prehistoric to the present. The traditional way to teach the history of architecture is through slide lectures, and that is the method we have used; we have also put images from the lectures on a website with a self-quiz function to aid in studying for exams. As this method began to seem too inert, we wanted to supplement it to make learning more active, and bring further knowledge of buildings to the students. We also wanted to make stronger links between the freshman history of architecture and the Studio courses in which students undertake designing buildings in sophomore year. The supplementary activities were in-class exercises and field trips with assignments attached, described below.

The first set of exercises we added to the lecture course were “design” projects in the classroom. After studying the history of Egyptian architecture, students were divided into teams of four and asked to design a funerary monument for Mitt Romney or Tom Menino in the Egyptian style. First they had to identify the distinctive characteristics of Egyptian architecture; then they drew a monument that incorporated these principles of Egyptian design; then one member of each group came to the blackboard and drew the group’s project; finally one of the group explained the project to the rest of the class.

The second set of active assignments were connected to field trips. Beginning students went to Copley Square for a tour of Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. In Trinity Church they had to demonstrate that they understood what the drawing types called plan and section were by making small drawings of the church. To demonstrate mastery of architectural vocabulary, they were given a “treasure hunt” list of architectural terms and had to find the corresponding elements in the library and identify them on building plans. To understand building materials better, they were sent to explore the NU campus with the job of finding 10 ways to use brick or stone or glass, make rubbings of their material to show various textures, and report back to the class on their findings. A more advanced assignment had students bring representations of an Italian renaissance church and library to the Christian Science Church and Library on Huntington Ave., and develop comparisons of those two complexes. A fourth project was to draw a cross-section of the central stair hall (a complex three-story space) in the Museum of Fine Arts and to answer specific questions about how the Classical vocabulary of architectural elements was deployed there. These exercises got everyone to look closely at the ways buildings are put together at each scale -- from whole building plans to details like moldings and capitals. Our study of urban design principles in several historical periods led to another campus project. Small groups of students went to assigned locations on campus with a map of NU’s open spaces and a set of images of ideal urban squares from Paris, Rome, and Florence. Their charge was to apply the principles of the classic urban squares to redesign the open spaces on our campus.

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