One Thing After Another

For Log 3

Kazys Varnelis

Leaving the opening reception for the “Minimal Future” exhibition at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art this past March, I was struck by the way the evening light, glancing off the steel of the Disney Concert Hall across the street, called to mind the dark skies and blood-red sunsets that marked the week of the building’s dedication. Suddenly, I was overcome by memories of that surreal event, when the glitterati and the public stood transfixed by Frank Gehry’s architecture, even as downtown L.A. was enveloped by the smoke from homes burning in the surrounding hills.
Continue reading “One Thing After Another”

Infrastructural City, Spring 1999

Southern California Institute of Architecture Spring 1999
Program in History and Theory of Architecture and Cities
Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.

Much like our internal organs, we take the infrastructure of the city for granted, expecting that it will be there for us when we need it. When we ignore infrastructure, we do so at our peril. Infrastructure enables but also limits our possibilities. If the form of the city determines its infrastructural network, the infrastructural network also determines the form of the city. And as with the body’s organs, infrastructural failure can be catastrophic.

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the various infrastructures from the most obvious to the most obscure that form a matrix underneath the urban landscape and to consider the roles of infrastructure in the social imaginary.

The course begins with a survey of the history of infrastructure in Western Europe and the United States, focussing primarily on Rome, Paris, and New York. Students will be exposed not only to the technological developments of infrastructure, but also to the formation of cultural attitudes regarding it. The second part of the course will investigate the various infrastructural networks from freeways to fiber optics that support Los Angeles.

Through a series of readings, combined with study in the field, we will come to an understanding of the dimensions of the infrastructural city. Not only is the infrastructural city all around us, it extends into the landscape far beyond the most distant suburb. To examine the impact of the infrastructural city on the supposedly non urban environment, a weekend field trip through the Mojave Desert to the Owens Valley is planned. Special attention will also be paid to the depiction of infrastructure in the cultural artifacts, particularly film, that help make up the urban mythology of Los Angeles.

Continue reading “Infrastructural City, Spring 1999”

History and Theory, II

University of Pennsylvania Spring 2004
School of Design
Department of Architecture
Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.

Architecture 512: History and Theory, II


This course traces the emergence of contemporary issues in the field by exploring architecture since the start of the twentieth century. Although it proceeds roughly in chronological order, it is not a survey. Incoming students should already have a familiarity with the major monuments, figures, and movements of the time. Rather, this course constitutes an advanced theoretical introduction to the key ideas that shape architectural thinking today, introducing topics as overlaying strata, with each new issue adding greater complexity even as previous layers continue to influence the present. Every class addresses specific themes through close readings of pertinent projects within the historical constellation of ideas, values, and technologies that inform them.

Of particular focus for the course is the relationship between architecture and modernity. Modernity is a new form of life, in which Karl Marx aptly wrote, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his, real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” If the nineteenth century marks the emergence of a modern civilization, judged by many to be bereft of purpose apart from profit and loss and unceasing growth and change, the twentieth century is defined by attempts to resist that modernity, organize it, and turn it to the advantage of mankind. To this end, this course will trace architecture’s relationship to organizational regimes of modernity such as Fordism, Taylorism, and Post-Fordism, the rise and fall of the machine as an object not to represent but rather to emulate, and the increasing focus on architecture as a matter of process, not product. Throughout, the course will highlight the tension between a drive towards rationalization and an urge to form.

The course has two components: a lecture surveying critical issues through close readings of buildings and a seminar component, led by the teaching assistants, reviewing the week’s lecture and reading while focusing on close readings undertaken by students. Readings will focus on writings by architects while critical texts from both architecture history and outside the discipline establish a context.

Continue reading “History and Theory, II”

Materiality of the Text 2005

University of Pennsylvania, Spring 2005
School of Design
Doctoral Program
Department of Architecture
Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.

Architecture 812: Theory, II / Materiality of the Text

Lectures/Seminars Wednesdays 10-1, Rare Book Room, Furness Library

The purpose of this seminar is to introduce students to the methods of scholarly inquiry and research through the analysis of a selection of writings by architects. These key documents will be considered within their disciplinary and cultural context and situated with regard to the built objects that surround them.

To give order to this broad undertaking, the semester is organized by the question of the “Materiality of the Text.” More than any other epoch preceding it, our era is marked by radical changes in the way we produce, transmit, and store textual and graphic information. In an attempt to understand la longue durée of the transmission of knowledge and thereby come to a better sense of the present transformations, this course investigates texts from Vitruvius to the contemporary as material objects that inform, and are informed by, architectural thinking. We will look to the texts not only for the arguments they contain, but also as technologies organizing and structuring knowledge and production. Our understanding of the emergence of the treatise, the manual, and architectural theory will be shaped by an investigation of how discourse forms within particular forms of media, e. g. the hand-copied codex, the printed book, the periodical, as well as present-day forms of new media. Throughout, we will consider the role of ordering, visuality, and image and the dialectic between the need to understand documents and objects on their own terms versus the historiographic drive for broader frameworks. Authors read will include architects Vitruvius, Andrea Palladio, Sebastiano Serlio, Claude Perrault, Marc-Antoine Laugier, Louis Sullivan, Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, El Lissitzky, Walter Gropius, Robert Venturi, and Rem Koolhaas as well as cultural theorists and philosophers such as Roger Chartier, Marshall McLuhan, Mario Carpo, Fredrick Jackson Turner, T. J. Clark, and Giorgio Agamben.

Continue reading “Materiality of the Text 2005”

Public Art, Public Space, and the Public Realm, 2004

University of Southern California Fall 2004
School of Fine Arts
Graduate Public Art Studies Program
Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.
6-8:50pm, Harris 102

This course explores competing ideas of the public sphere. The class is multidisciplinary in nature, with a wide variety of subtopics, ranging from the role of the media in defining the public sphere, the role of the contemporary American built environment vis-?ɬ†-vis public art, contemporary ideas of audience and public, the use of art and architecture in contemporary cities, and the role of telecommunications in reshaping public life. The class is about the context of public art and some of the social and political issues involved, but is not a class about public art in and of itself.

Continue reading “Public Art, Public Space, and the Public Realm, 2004”

Network City: Architecture and the Contemporary Urban Condition, Spring 2003

Network City: Architecture and the Contemporary Urban Condition

Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.
Network City is an advanced survey of the contemporary city and the role of buildings within it. The urban environment of our time is shaped by pressure from an increasingly global economy, advances in telecommunications, economic restructuring and radical sociodemographic changes. The resulting city increasingly abandons a centered, fixed, place-bound, and hard entity for a fluid field condition organized by competing networks of technology and individuals. Recent changes have blurred the distinctions between city, suburb, and rural into a broader urban (or post-suburban) condition.

Continue reading “Network City: Architecture and the Contemporary Urban Condition, Spring 2003”