Master of Advanced Studies in History and Theory of Architecture
Didactics and Methods

Hernando Cortés (letters), plan of Tenochtitlan, 1524; Pierre Patte, Monuments érigés en France à la gloire de Louis XV, 1765; Aldo Rossi, Città analoga, 1976

The goal of our teaching methodology is to capture and conceptualise the intersections between architectural design and urban development processes. These include the interfaces between regulation, form and social space, as well as the interfaces between the micro- and macro-levels of architecture and the city. The first step towards achieving this goal is to convey the fundamentals of methods used in the humanities in the MAS’s methods workshops, which include literature research, archival work and selected instruments of field research in the social sciences (including interviews and participant observation). The second step is to adapt these tools to the specific needs and questions of urban and architectural production as required for the analysis and interpretation of texts and data material. The prerequisite for this kind of cross-methodological approach is a basic understanding of the fundamentals of the theory and history of architecture and of the city from 1500 to the present, which will be conveyed in the four thematic seminars.

The methodological goal of the MAS HTA is a theory of practice. We see the interfaces between theory and practice as well as their historical investigation as uniquely productive in the advancement of new methods and insights into the design disciplines, as well as into their histories and theories. At the same time, the MAS is not primarily about problem solving, but rather about identifying the conditions, assumptions, theories and precedents of the concerns the students have identified in their practice or previous intellectual engagements. Accordingly, we push MAS students to draw on their professional experience – whether in the planning, design, realisation or management of projects in the built environment, or in related fields – to use the MAS as a space for theoretical inquiry and the exploration of their concerns.

Research into architecture sits, sometimes awkwardly, between its unique situatedness regarding geographic location, historic context, as well as a chosen research method, and its claim to generality. To acknowledge this entanglement and work within this tension between the universal and the specific, scholarly rigour and inventiveness of method become necessary partners. We therefore demand that students know the state of the field to understand how the particular issue they have chosen to work on have been addressed across time and place, as well as in other disciplines, in order to argue cogently and convincingly for his or her own contribution. At the same time, we support students in developing their own methodological approach and ask them to understand and strengthen their own situatedness and speaker’s position as they investigate their chosen field.

Over the course of the two years, students write two short research papers as well as a Master’s thesis on topics of their choice. In addition, they contribute a small item of research to a joint project. Through this work, students appropriate scholarly writing methods as an intellectual tool for design and research. This includes the research of sources and their transparent citation, as well as a scientific mode of inquiry. Of equal importance is the experience of repeatedly revising one’s own texts based on the feedback of peers and mentors.