Architecture as a Form of Cultural Expression


Four architectural renderings arranged horizontally to indicate a progression from literal to abstract.

The Architectural Imagination, a new online course from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and HarvardX, invites learners from around the globe to consider architecture as a form of cultural expression, as well as a technical achievement.

“It's important to insist from the start architecture is not merely a matter of building,” said course professor Michael Hays, Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Interim Chair for the Department of Architecture.

“Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated cultural practices there is. A single instant involves all the aesthetic, technological, economic, political issues of social production itself. And, indeed, in some ways architecture, as we'll see, helps articulate history itself.”



Hays, together with colleagues Erika Naginski, Professor of Architectural History and Director of Graduate Studies; Antoine Picon, G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology and Director of Research; and Lisa Haber-Thomson, Instructor in Architecture, introduce fundamental principles of architecture from a study of some of history’s important buildings.

“This course will basically do two things: first we’ll construct models, theories, and systems about how to think about architecture systems that transcend historical context and apply to architecture generally,” explained Hays.

“Then we’ll look at specific examples about how architecture produces these theories through buildings and projects in particular times and places. So this is about the architectural imagination. It’s how to think about architecture but it's also about architecture as a mode of thought.”

Analyses of exemplary buildings from a wide range of historical contexts, coupled with hands-on exercises in drawing and modeling, will bring learners close to the work of an actual architect or historian. Throughout the 10 modules, participants will learn:

  • How to read, analyze, and understand different forms of architectural representation
  • Social and historical contexts behind major works of architecture
  • Basic principles to produce architectural drawings and models
  • Pertinent content for academic study or a professional career as an architect

The Architectural Imagination begins on February 28 and is self-paced, allowing participants to learn on their own timeline. For complete course details, click on the course tile below.

The Architectural Imagination course tile