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Cultures, Communities and Design

The Reach of a Morpho-Topical Architecture
K. Youssef
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm


Architecture design, roughly defined as the creation of form-for-dwelling (dwelling understood in an existentialist sense) entails two extremes for how form-for-dwelling is generated: one extreme is an extrinsically generated form that engenders an architecture as an instrument of culture; the other extreme is an intrinsically generated form that engenders an architecture as an autonomous form. As an instrument of culture, it responds to its physical and social context creating a contextualized architecture. As an autonomous form, it is self-referential and creates a de-contextualized architecture. Between these two extremes scholars have argued for a differentiated relation between architecture and culture. Among them are those that advocate for a critical architecture, an architecture that is acontextual while also repudiating formalism, others argue for a context-embedded architecture that seems to offer a middle ground between the two extremes of total integration and total discontinuity or difference. Modern and contemporary architecture could be readily placed along the spectrum of these extremes with the promise of occupying a reasonable middle ground. However, modern and contemporary architecture have generally been unsuccessful in defining the proper link between architecture and culture. The paper aims to understand what is meant by a context-embedded architecture and calls for an approach that is morpho-topical, one that responds to place (topos) in an immediate as well as mediate sense. Architecture is foremost the insertion of a form-for-dwelling in a place, a nested and networked place situated in relation to other places and networks. The contextual problematic of architecture needs to be supplanted by an understanding of place. Form can thus be reconceptualized as part of a wider understanding of being a constituent of place. This may avail architecture from being framed as a commodified object while setting a foundation for an architecture of embodiment.


Karim Youssef is an assistant professor of Architecture at California Baptist University. He earned a Ph.D in Environmental Design from the University of Calgary and a M.A.Sc. from the University of Montreal. Dr. Youssef’s research interests originated with a fascination of form and urban morphology, gradually evolving to research the association between the physical, the social, the cultural, and the spiritual dimensions of the built environment. His teaching reflects studying the association between these dimensions at the architectural and urban scale in courses that he developed such as Place and Sacred Architecture as well as cross-cultural differences in the Urban Fabric of Cities. Dr. Youssef had previously taught at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University in Canada, guest lectured at the University of Economics and Business in Poznan, Poland as well as assisted faculty at the Architectural Department at the University of Tanta in Egypt. Karim Youssef was nominated for the Governor General Gold Medal in 2015 for his academic achievements and is the author of: The Monadic Space of Suburban Canada.