Until the 1960s, modern architectural practice was fuelled by visionary thinkers and a pool of ideas nurtured by the debate over their buildings and their role in societal modernisation. Architectural theory was so embedded in architectural praxis that it was traceable as such only when discerned from without by the disciplines of architectural criticism, architectural history, or art history, rendering architecture mistakably as inherently non-theoretical, non-verbal, and anti-intellectual. By the turn of the 1990s, this situation was completely changed: architecture had now been taken over by a “theory frenzy” (Lavin, 1990, 113) and filled with a hullabaloo of isms and philosophical vocabulary that did not make sense without the plethora of new journals, books, conferences, and theory courses that emerged to lead architects through the labyrinth. After a decade of calm post-postmodernism and new pragmatism, we are again faced with a pressure to theorize architecture as a critical practice, but criticality has not been calibrated since the 1990s and beyond the contours of general good. Criticality towards exactly what; against what; for what? Should architectural theory education again keep track of the latest isms and ologies, or could it have some more substantial educational value? The proposed paper debates the relevance of architectural theory education in the 2020s and introduces a course example that defines architectural theory simply as the history of ideas and criticality as a healthy distance between the profession and its context. The paper regards theorizing not as architectural intelligentsia’s self-proclaimed raison d’être, but as a conceptual tool with which we can reflect culturally or personally significant aspects of architectural production. The paper will present a course example where architectural theory is used as a method to provide a frame of reference for personal development and help position the student within the cultural reality they perceive, underlining the learner’s active engagement and the relevance of exchange in the process.
Dr. Anni Vartola is a Senior University Lecturer in Theory of Architecture at Aalto University, Department of Architecture, Finland. She has worked as an architectural educator since 1998, and besides the academia, she works as a freelance critic contributing regularly as a writer and speaker to both scholarly and professional architectural events and publications. Her research focuses on postmodernism in architecture, modern and contemporary theory of architecture, and post-1960s Finnish architecture. Her recent works include Louekari, L., Hirviniemi, H., Strömman, K. and Vartola, A (2020). Toista sataa – Suomen itsenäisyyden ajan arkkitehtuuria vuosi vuodelta [Over One Hundred – Architecture since Finnish Independence Year by Year], Helsinki:AtlasArt, and the curatorship of the Mind-Building exhibition for the Pavilion of Finland at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia in 2018.