Invention in the Shadow of History
Joseph Rykwert at the University of Essex

“Mr. Rykwert is not really concerned with the history of an idea – an idea that never was – but with a cluster of associations for which he looks in the writings of modern architects, in architectural treatises of the past, in ancient legend and religious rituals,” wrote Ernst Gombrich. In his 1973 review of Joseph Rykwert’s book On Adam’s House in Paradise, Gombrich identifies the core of Rykwert’s approach – a re-examination of the minutiae of history at its source. For Gombrich and others of his generation, however, the uses to which Rykwert put this research (here in a written context, but also in a pedagogic one) placed him outside the mainstream, to his detriment. One of this paper’s subjects of inquiry is this outsider’s position, both in terms of the institutional environment that Rykwert inhabited, and in his academic work.

Collaborators, like Dalibor Vesely, George Baird, Antoine Grumbach, and students of the masters course that Rykwert taught at the University of Essex would later define a group of influential teachers, writers and architects. In 1996, a Festschrift was held for Rykwert at the University of Pennsylvania, where he had been Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture since 1988. Even so, in his 2002 introduction to the publication of Rykwert’s Festschrift papers, Body and Buildings George Baird had to admit that “It is not easy to identify precisely the place of Joseph Rykwert in the international architectural academy.” One of the reasons that he identifies for this is “the lack of ready transmissibility” of Rykwert’s writing and teaching, but clarity was not one of Rykwert’s ambitions.

The Preface to Rykwert’s earliest book, The Idea of a Town, provides a clue to the thinking behind his idiosyncratic approach to history, architecture and the urban: “The town is not really like a natural phenomenon. It is an artefact – an artefact of a curious kind, compounded of willed and random elements, imperfectly controlled, if it is related to physiology at all, it is more like a dream than anything else.”

Here, Rykwert is advocating a break down of the accepted systems of historical knowledge. The whole is presented in fragments of narrative and fact in his writings, in an often non-linear format. Whether this approach is also true of his teaching is examined below in the context of his masters course at the University of Essex.

Rykwert at Essex
In October 1968 three men embarked on the first postgraduate course in the History and Theory of Architecture, so marking a deep-seated shift in the possibilities of architectural discourse. This masters course was held in the Department of Art at the new University of Essex, rather than in a School of Architecture. It aligned itself to a well-established academic field as a trajectory of Art History, thus avoiding problems of academic identity that architectural history and theory had suffered previously as an adjunct to vocational training.

Looking back, its founding professor, architect and historian Joseph Rykwert said, “I wrote a programme which suggested that art history should be taught quite differently from the Courtauld method. Not on the basis of connoisseurship and the chromatics, but on the basis of a socially committed art history in which you start off by looking at objects and not necessarily paintings, and treat them all as evidence of how they were made in their context. Then you look at the city as the context of the works.”

Rykwert’s aim was to transform the subject matter and context of art history. He sought to shift the context of critique from closed and self-referential systems, such as the vast and deep iconographies of the Warburg library, and other frameworks of expert authority, such as those defined at the Courtauld Institute. His alternative was the wide-open and unknown territory of history’s “motivating conditions.” His approach aligned with that of the University of Essex’ young, American vice-chancellor, Albert Sloman. He wanted to create an ‘anti-university’ to overturn the ivory-tower perception of academia. The university would be an institution embedded in society, and totally indivisible as a separate structure.

In 1967, the Department of Art was set up in the School of Comparative Studies alongside the existing Departments of Literature, Government and Politics, and Sociology. The arrangement was that first year students, in addition to the visual arts, would “study literature, politics and society and the relationship linking the arts with these other aspects of contemporary cultural scene.” In Rykwert’s own words, study of the Enlightenment was the key to engagement with the modern and the prevailing within the School of Comparative Studies: “it started with the Enlightenment … Everyone had to be able to teach social history, literature, philosophy and art. All the components had to be taught by everybody – we all taught Enlightenment. After that the students then elected a school. So in the first year we had to capture students for the history of art.”

The University of Essex and the School of Comparative Studies in particular, therefore, showed a new willingness to engage with a wider, more chaotic world and to consider art and architecture as a vital articulation of it. The particular geographical and historical legacy of the European Enlightenment lay at its core. The significance of the Enlightenment as a period when knowledge became codified within discrete scientific discourses lay beneath the identity of the School of Comparative Studies. New (sociology) and old (literature) disciplines were deliberately brought together in the same school to the extent that they were merged in the first year. The structure of the School of Comparative Studies was a challenge to Enlightenment traditions. Its synthetic nature was in opposition to the multiplication and isolation of academic disciplines produced by Enlightenment codifications and ensuing specialization of knowledge.

The creative energy of the new, unprecedented masters scheme in the history and theory of architecture sprang from the Enlightenment too. The study of Enlightenment and pre-Enlightenment texts, architects and buildings formed the basis of critical reappraisal. Interest in the Enlightenment was not merely historical, however, for it defined the rationalist foundations of modernism that the course sought to challenge. In this sense, Rykwert was moving beyond merely providing an alternative to the Courtauld method. He was also filling a gap in current architectural education in Britain at the time.

“No-one was teaching history of architecture in schools, far less ideas. There wasn’t any kind of philosophical debate in my experience and I think for the people around,” reminisced John McKean, an early masters student. Architectural history was a study of precedent in British architectural schools, which followed a rationalist epistemology leading straight from the Enlightenment to contemporary reflections on modern architecture. Rykwert proposed going back to the sources of these assumptions, which he found in key texts and treatises, in order to study them in depth. The reconstruction of a new history via concentrated and rigorous analysis was possible by carefully rereading these texts, and a new relationship between the Ancients and the Moderns could be established that questioned this scientistic organisation of knowledge.

Several students who subsequently took the course, some of whose later work responded directly to this ambition, have remarked upon the close focus of study. Alberto Perez-Gomez, who was a masters student between 1973 and 1974, said that “Joseph … went in depth and "unpacked" the texts for us. His "agenda" was to teach us to read carefully and with respect, to hear the answers to our own questions though the texts.”

A later student, Helen Powell, remembered that during “the first four, six weeks, we looked at one paragraph of Alberti and that was a complete shock to the system. That was in the morning with Joseph, and Descartes in the afternoon with Dalibor. I was just completely and utterly taken aback by the whole thing, by the intensity of it.”

While Rykwert searched for the origins of ideas by travelling in time toward the Enlightenment, his colleague Dalibor Vesely looked back from the 20th century, as Perez-Gomez described:
“For me their approach worked very well together. Joseph went "forward" from Vitruvius to the 18th century, Dalibor "backward" from phenomenology to the 19th century ending with Semper.”

Rykwert taught a seminar course described in the syllabus as:
“Theoretical literature of architecture before 1800
This will inevitably centre on the Italian treatises of the XVIth and the XVIIth centuries, and the French literature of the XVIIIth. Particular weight will be given to the implications of theory for contemporary practice.”

Vesely’s course was described as:
“The phenomenology and psychology of perception; their implications for methods of design
The implications of both social and individual psychology of design standards will be treated, with particular reference to orientation and perceptual ambivalence, the function of the memory and perception, the nature of the relationship between the design processes, the cultural limitations of perception, the deductive operation of the designer and its perceptual implications.”

Vesely had trained as an architect like Rykwert, but in Czechoslovakia rather than England. Rykwert had arrived in England as a schoolboy refugee from occupied Poland and then studied architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture (University College London) and the Architectural Association (AA). He studied art history informally at the Warburg Institute later on. Vesely met Rykwert at the library of the Royal College of Art in London, where he was the librarian, in 1964. Rykwert invited Vesely to leave Prague and join him at the University of Essex when he took the post as Chairman of the Department of Art in 1967. Vesely’s position was never institutionally formalised.

Vesely’s architectural education had also been supplemented by the study of Art History, but he had followed a different route to Rykwert in challenging the establishment. He attended Czech philosopher Jan Patocka’s clandestine, subversive seminars in the philosophy of art that proved important in his subsequent thinking and teaching. He became interested in the phenomenology and psychology of perception under Patocka. This interest would later define his masters seminar course, and he brought with him questions that were unusual and fascinating to the Anglo-Saxon imagination. The content of the course that Vesely taught on the masters course was deeply philosophical, concerned with perception and conception, but there was a deliberate intention toward practical application. This attempt to deepen understanding of architectural practice as a means to its implementation was an important characteristic of both Vesely’s teaching and the course in general.
The university’s course prospectus, however, is entitled a ‘Graduate scheme of study in The History and Theory of Architecture,’ which is again echoed in Rykwert’s seminar course description. This wording suggests a separation between the intellectual and the vocational practice of architecture that both Rykwert and Vesely sought to bridge. Their perception of the academic identity of the course and its design and vocational implications were intrinsic to the sympathy that they had for each other’s differing intellectual approaches. Rykwert embodied the duality of the practical and the academic in his persona. He perceived of himself as a practising architect as well as a teacher, and wrote at two scales: as the critical journalist and as the introverted academic. Whilst acting as professor he published two books: The Idea of a Town (1963 in Forum, 1976) and On Adam’s House in Paradise (1972), and wrote another: The First Moderns published in 1980. He also wrote many articles for journals as varied as Casabella, Oppositions and the Architectural Review.

Vesely, at the time, separated the intellectual from the practical geographically – he ran seminars on the phenomenology and psychology of perception at Essex and a design studio at the AA. In his own words, the Essex seminars explored the “situatedness of consciousness,” while the AA design studio developed the notion of “typical situations.” He worked toward an internal synthesis through his teaching: “The interesting thing to admit, well I remember sitting on a train between London and Colchester and doing the phenomenology over there and the studio here. I remember always being puzzled and anxious to see what I couldn’t see - how those two could possibly eventually connect. It is interesting how long it took to see whether they really had a common ground, and to reflect on that legwork of seeking subtly for it. It became very neat, the concreteness of pragmatism almost. It took me several years. I was in a state of schizophrenia. I could see certain things, little flashes of light, but not really continuity between one and the other which I found puzzling.”

The point where he and Rykwert met was in their intention to develop an understanding of architecture within a deep cultural context that connected the past to the present. Vesely explained that his teaching “was orientated toward understanding the long-term cultural experience, which means the notion of historical context. But, it was not seen as something that you could take as historical precedent, or just a move into history. It was already in a way an anticipation of the hermeneutical circle that you take certain things from the background, from the deeper kind of context in time. But you permanently speak about it from where you are, which means that it is always again and again the 20th century.”

The complex and ambiguous nature of Rykwert and Vesely’s ambitions to review the rationalist foundations of modern architecture through the study of history and philosophy proved problematic in terms of the pragmatic reality of the masters course in its institutional context. “The scheme of study will be a self-contained programme for students who are familiar with the basic notions of planning and designing and who also have some experience of architectural and design office practice,” stated the prospectus. From the beginning the masters course was intended to serve students already trained as designers who were able to engage with architectural ideas and specialist means of communication. They were set apart from all other students of the University of Essex - including those in the Department of Art itself – by the fact that they could read and understand plans and sections. This was reinforced by the statement that“It is envisaged that this course will attract students who have reached the intermediate RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] level or beyond, or who hold a first degree in engineering or industrial design.” Rykwert’s position as to the identity of the course in relation to the Department was ambiguous from the very beginning.

“I made it a condition of accepting the post [as Chairman of the Department of Art] that I would run this postgraduate course in architecture. There was a lot of argy bargy in the Senate about that because they were worried that I was really trying to insert a school of architecture. I had to take it on the sole undertaking that I was not,” he said, but even before his official appointment began, Rykwert was pointing out that: “Regrets have always been expressed that no place for practising artists has been found within the curriculum of the department. While the course may not correspond with the concept of the ‘creative artist on the campus’, it nevertheless introduces into the university artists practising one of the essential disciplines studied by undergraduates in the department.”

The autonomy created by this strategy of recruitment and study was a significant issue, for it restricted the academic identity of the course by denying access to students who had followed a traditional academic route by studying, for example, art history. This intrinsically separated it from the Department of Art and the School of Comparative Studies, which defined its institutional contexts. It also complicated its position in relation to existing design courses in traditional schools of architecture. An understanding of the design process was integral to the approach to the academic material of the course, although design was never explicitly taught in the course.

The uneasiness of the relationship between the masters course and its institutional context would have significant consequences, discussed later. For the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS), which was setting up at the same time in New York, a distance between its intellectual activity and its institutional contexts was also nurtured. In this case the separation was deliberate, and the IAUS built up a strong academic identity in architectural circles before aligning itself with established institutions, like the schools of architecture at Princeton, Columbia and Yale. Rykwert’s masters course did not have such a strong position, and there is evidence that the IAUS tried to help Rykwert’s masters course consolidate itself within the university. It offered a Junior Fellowship for its own course that was conditional upon the candidate taking the masters course in architecture at Essex.

Colin Rowe’s teaching at Cornell University during the 1960s provides another important counterpart to Rykwert’s teachings at the University of Essex. While this will not be explored in depth here, there is an interesting relationship between Rykwert’s simultaneously scholarly, textual and anecdotal approach to architectural history and challenge to Enlightenment legacies, and Rowe’s advocacy of an anti-utopian contextualist critique of modernism. Rowe’s teachings of the 1960s were articulated in the book he published with Fred Keottler in 1978, called Collage City. Like Rykwert, Rowe challenged the abstract and reductive nature of modernist architecture and its impoverishing effects on the urban environment. Both men used techniques of fragmentation and disassociation of artifact and ideas from the canon, but where Rykwert’s material was intellectual and textual, Rowe’s was visual and formalist.

Both Rowe and Rykwert reacted against the formalization of academic disciplines. Rykwert’s masters course in the ‘history and theory of architecture’ subsequently suffered within its institutional context in the University of Essex in a way that seems unthinkable now in England. Today, postgraduate (and increasingly undergraduate) architectural education has multiple specializations (such as housing, emergent technology, history and theory, soundscapes). Often these do not need to communicate across their boundaries, or even remain confined to schools of architecture. This is a different situation to the one Rykwert faced. Then, the difficulties associated with studying architecture in a way that was not explicitly vocational meant that the masters course could not connect to its home in the Department of Art at the University of Essex. It was not part of an architecture school, nor was it an accredited means of attaining exemption from the RIBA’s exam structure. As an independent subject, this meeting of architectural history and practice was not confident enough, not real enough yet, to exist independently of professional training. Issues of funding, grants and student subsidies affected the economic viability of a course that contributed nothing to the institution in which it was based.

Various attempts were made by Rykwert to reconcile the course within some kind of supportive institutional framework. There was an unsuccessful negotiation with Dennis Berry, principal of Kingston School of Architecture, regarding a semi-formal association. Robert Maxwell, Director of Professional Education at the Bartlett School of Architecture, initiated an exchange of letters with Rykwert. These sought to include Rykwert’s one-year masters course as part of the RIBA part II requirement at the Bartlett, as a replacement for a Field Experience Year. This, too, was fruitless since the RIBA refused to accept a masters course in history and theory as a possible substitute for a year of a ‘professional’ course. Thirty years later Rykwert was to point out that his critical teaching and research programme at Essex was “seen as useless by some “academic” groups – but almost as a threat by others. Sometime after it was approved and announced the Vice-Chancellor asked to see me. He had been telephoned … by the Education Secretary of the RIBA and – to his shocked surprise – instructed that he was to suppress the proposed course.”

Sufficient status to survive its self-imposed isolation within the Department of Art was never achieved by Rykwert for his masters course. Only four years after its beginnings in a physics laboratory situated at the edges of a building site in Wivenhoe Park outside Colchester, the course began slowly to rethink its geographical location in relation to the University of Essex. Tutorials took place on railway platforms and in train carriages on the one-hour journey from London’s Liverpool Street Station to Colchester North Station. Seminars began to be held in people’s kitchens in North London in addition to the new rooms of the Department of Art in Essex. A fugitive status was gradually assumed, and by 1973 seminars were held exclusively in the basement kitchen of the Soane Museum in Holborn, London, kindly made available by John Summerson who was then curator. A few years later Hugh Casson loaned his office at the Royal Academy, which was used in conjunction with basement print rooms designated for architecture.

Thus the masters course became tenuous in its material reality, depending to a greater degree on its social relations, rather like a group of itinerant entertainers for whom physical location is irrelevant. The personal charisma of Rykwert and Vesely as protagonists played an important part in holding everything together. Much remembered is Rykwert’s avuncular presence, and his adherence to the rituals of tea and coffee drinking. Fortnum and Mason’s took on a key role within the geography of the masters seminars in later years.

“I got the feeling that Joseph was the stable person that set up not just the administration but the fact that you had tea and that someone was always organised to bring biscuits. There was the sense of civilization, an order of business that Joseph was very responsible for. There was a kind of ethos to the way one was expected to participate,” said Helen Powell, a student during the Royal Academy days who was recruited through a successful informal collaboration with the Central Polytechnic. Fellow student David Leatherbarrow was to concur: “just as important as the Royal Academy was Fortnum and Masons across the street. At the first meeting of the seminar, Joseph took the whole group there to select and buy all the apparatus for making coffee. The context we had was limited to those who participated in the seminar.”

The extent to which the masters course evaded institutional validation for intellectual reasons was balanced only by its attempts to seek institutional support for economic ones. This elusion of a clearly defined identity can be read as a deliberate strategy for intellectual freedom and experimentation. The role of the intellectual as critic is compromised when their voice speaks not from the edges, but with the confidence of an incorporated establishment position. Then the critic is deprived of their most crucial weapon - that of a critical perspective. On one level Rykwert remained deeply establishment - his appointment as Chairman of the Department of Art was facilitated by his membership of the elite gentlemen’s Savile Club - but on another level he was intensely and deliberately radical. His stance against the Courtauld was just part of a personal history of anti-institutional conduct.

Today the situation is very different for those organising postgraduate studies in architecture than it was for Rykwert at the University of Essex. ‘Critical Practices’ take place at the very centre of the architectural establishment and are usually deeply embedded within a specific institution. They are no longer radical or itinerant but profoundly institutionalized. In postgraduate programs at schools of architecture, such as Princeton, there are seminar courses to reflect on the origins of the IAUS, while in Britain the question of what a critical practice might be, its media and methodologies, is asked confidently and almost exclusively within educational and government-sponsored institutions. As Vesely has recently pointed out: “The rather narrow contemporary vision of architecture as a discipline that can be treated as an instrument, or as a commodity, is the result of a transformation in which the broadly oriented art of building became a separate profession, judged mostly by the criteria of technical disciplines.”

It is to this issue, architecture as a commodifiable cultural practice, that we now turn in conclusion.
The definition of specialist ‘practices’ within the discourse of architecture has its roots in the Enlightenment structures of thought that Rykwert and Vesely sought to challenge. Some commentators, however, see Rykwert and Vesely as catalysts to an increasing articulation and separation of intellectual domains: “’Theory’ was at that time [the 1960s] held to be a branch of systems analysis or ‘methodology’ and it became apparent to students of that period (including me) that we were witnessing the emergence of what we would now call ‘anoraks’ – a generation of pseudo-scientists quantifying the obvious at the expense of architectural culture. At this point, and under the influence of Joseph Rykwert and Dalibor Vesely, theory was unhitched from methodology and realigned as a subset of history, a linkage that provides the orthodoxy for locating theory within architectural education but leaves theory distanced from many aspects of practice.”

This statement raises the question of whether the Essex masters course unwittingly enabled the release of architectural theory from the practice of architecture at the moment of its tenuous integration with it. In 1975 the masters course became an MPhil programme, and in 1979 Rykwert and Vesely moved from the Department of Art at the University of Essex to the School of Architecture at the University of Cambridge. Here, in a School of Architecture at last, an explicit engagement with the design process became possible. This influenced the work produced in Vesely’s unit at the AA, and his students began to produce an identifiable body of work associated with a process of drawing and design.

Contemporaneous to the Essex course, however, were the experiments of the IAUS. Here a separation between theory and practice, with theory coming first, was again a deliberate strategy. Theory as an entity that both preceded and informed design was developed and made accessible to a wide and still growing audience. The relationships that Rykwert and Vesely sought to forge between the cultural, the historical and the practical were more difficult to grasp - especially visually - and less mediated. They were, therefore, less accessible.

In 1968, radical architectural education began questioning the relationship between theory and practice afresh, and the foundations of new types of architectural study were laid. In the thirty-five years between then and now postgraduate study in architecture has become a booming business. Architectural history and theory masters courses have become vocational in themselves. They are responding to the career opportunities available to those engaged in the culture of architecture, rather than in its material production. The term theory tends to define methodological rather than philosophically based ideas as the production of theory and the construction of theoretical situations engender new, autonomous architectural practices. The preface to a symposium held at Kingston University in 1995, “Desiring Practices,” illustrates an English example: “these texts stretch definitions of ‘architecture’ and ‘practice’ far beyond their current limits and instead establish gender and desire as their common ground.”

The practical aspects of research and its application in relation to its audience define teaching programs intent on throwing light upon a process or a situation, rather than engaging with the unknown. A self-conscious academic Enlightenment concerned with methodology over content has replaced the dark corners that Rykwert and Vesely found so useful. Instructions on how to research (mine archives, describe photographs, carry out interviews) and produce (write journalistic articles and make radio and television broadcasts) prove very useful to students, but sometimes supersede deep analysis of texts and ideas.

Almost twenty years ago Don Delillo wrote a parody of academia that he called White Noise, evoking the hum of voices that speak into a world quite separate from its subject. Since then the industry of education has more than measured up to his predictions, requiring tight articulations of identity and academic intent in order to survive in an increasingly competitive market. This increase in theory’s potential as a practice unto itself, while dynamic in creating new possibilities, has brought its relationship with architectural production into crisis.

On one level, it has again been co-opted by the ‘anoraks’ mentioned in the quote above, but more interestingly, it is seen to have become irrelevant. The degradation of European philosophies into theory or “fast philosophy,” so ably described by Michael Speakes, depended on a distinction between the avant-garde and the commercial world that cannot exist when the critical voice speaks at the center. The design of inhabited material environments can not engage with practices that define, for example, the page as a site for material intervention. At that moment the reciprocity of text and action, architectural theory and practice, is lost.

Endnotes
Ernst Gombrich, “Review of ‘On Adam’s House in Paradise’. Dream Houses.” The New York Review of Books 29th November (1973) (from web-archive: www.nybooks.com/archives/)

George Baird, “Introduction “A Promise as Well as a Memory”: Toward an Intellectual Biography of Joseph Rykwert” in George Dodds and Robert Tavernor eds., Body and Building: essays on the changing relation of body and architecture (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 2001) p.3

Kenneth Frampton adds his voice to those of Gombrich and Banham in his 1973 review of On Adam’s House in Paradise in Architecture Plus July (1973): 8-9, 73, when he says, as Baird points out, that his main problem with the book was the author’s “failure to make himself clear.”

Joseph Rykwert, The Idea of a Town (London: Faber and Faber, 1976) pp. 23 – 24.

In this context, Baird’s comparison of Rykwert with Foucault is interesting; he says “he has lost confidence in the efficacy or legitimacy of grand intellectual systems or systematic social or historical projects. By the same token, he is of a generation [i.e. not that of Gombrich, or even Banham] that abandoned notions of progress in history.” This is an issue discussed further below. See Baird, “Introduction “A Promise as Well as a Memory”: Toward an Intellectual Biography of Joseph Rykwert” p. 22.

Joseph Rykwert (JR), in his preliminary observations for a ‘Proposed MA scheme in the History and Theory of Architecture to begin in October 1968’ University of Essex (UoE) archives 17th February 1967, said: “There is at present no course of this nature being offered at any school of architecture or university in this country; or indeed anywhere else that I know of.” The Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) in New York, for example, had begun as a non-profit independent agency concerned with research, education, and development in architecture and urbanism in 1967, but its institutionalised educational programme (undergraduate) did not begin until 1973.

Rykwert was officially appointed for three years as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Art from 1st October 1967, Reporter (University of Essex) no. 9 23rd December (1966): 10 University of Essex (UoE) Archives. The quote is from an interview with Joseph Rykwert by the author, 21.1.03. Rykwert also refers to the relationship between the city and its cultural artefacts throughout his book The Idea of a Town (London: Faber and Faber, 1976), which was first published in Forum (Amsterdam) in 1963, five years before the first year of the masters course. His preface, for instance, makes this relationship clear. The town is “an artefact of a curious kind, compounded of willed and random elements,” he says. The conceptual model of its inhabitants is constructed mentally, and is often exemplified in their homes. This relationship between inhabitant and city is the context for art and other cultural artefacts, as he states: “the elaborate geometrical and topological structure of the [Roman] town growing out of and growing round a system of custom and belief which made it a perfect vehicle for a culture and a way of life.” pp. 24 and 25.

At that time the principal schools of Art History within which architectural history was taught were the Courtauld Institute headed by Anthony Blunt, and the Warburg Institute, both of which were attached to the University of London. Rykwert studied intermittently under Wittkower at the Warburg Institute (see Kenneth Powell, “Interpreter of Meaning,” Architects’ Journal July 11th (1996): 20)

This term, ‘motivating conditions,’ is used by David Leatherbarrow in discussing the basic materials of the Masters programme: “They [the writings of author architects] were historical and responded to issues that arose in conditions that are different from ours, which meant we had to try our best to come to grips with ‘motivating conditions.’ In short our method was simple: discover the conditions to which the text might be seen as a response.” Extract from an email interview with author 10.7.02. David Leatherbarrow is Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Leatherbarrow had been a student of the phenomenology seminar course that Daniel Libeskind (an early masters student at Essex) taught in Kentucky.

Sloman’s opinion is given in an interview with John McKean, John McKean, “University of Essex, Case Study,” Architects’ Journal 20th September (1972): 645. McKean goes on to debate how far this ambition was manifest materially in the University’s location, plan and buildings (Rykwert himself was rather sceptical about this in his essay “Universities as Institutional Archetypes of our Age,” Zodiac 18 (Milan): 61-3) but this ambition is relevant too in the educational plan for the new University. John McKean is Professor of Architecture at the University of Brighton.

Introduction to 1967 prospectus for the School of Comparative Studies at the UoE, UoE archives, probably written by Joseph Rykwert.

JR interview with author 21.3.03 concurs with Michael Podro (interview with author 3.2.03), Rykwert’s successor as Chairman of the Department of Art from 1971, on the nature of the Enlightenment course.

John McKean, interview with author 4.7.02

Alberto Perez-Gomez, email interview with author 29.7.02. Alberto Perez-Gomez is Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor Architecture at McGill University. His first book, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1983) is based on the PhD dissertation he wrote under Rykwert and Vesely at Essex.

Helen Powell (Mallinson) interview with author 3.7.02. Helen Mallinson is ex-head of the School of Architecture and Interior Design. London Metropolitan University.

Perez-Gomez interview with author (email) 29.7.02.

These are the syllabus descriptions, whose authorship is not known. They remained largely unchanged throughout the duration of the masters course at Essex, 1968 – 1975 (from 1975 onwards the seminar courses are part of a two-year MPhil programme). There were two additional parts to the course: “The individual building and the total environment” and “The Nature of style and language in architecture,” taught by George Baird for the first three years, and then Antoine Grumbach.

Gregotti acknowledges this aspect of Rykwert’s work in reference to his writing when he says, “Thinking of him as an anthropologist of architectural history … helps explicate what it is that makes his work so invaluable to us – we architects, in particular, who often use his conclusions as the raw material of our projects.” Vittorio Gregotti “Epilogue. Joseph Rykwert: An Anthropologist of Architectural History” in George Dodds and Robert Tavernor eds., Body and Building: essays on the changing relation of body and architecture (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 2001) p.321

George Baird makes this point in Baird, “Introduction “A Promise as Well as a Memory”: Toward an Intellectual Biography of Joseph Rykwert” p. 5 when he points out that the popular view of Rykwert as an acquired intellectual taste fails to consider his career as a “reviewer of furniture and fashion.”

Rykwert’s journal articles engaged with both historical and contemporary architecture, including his essays on Eileen Gray: “Eileen Gray: two houses and an interior, 1926-1933” Perspecta v. 13-14 (1971): 66-73, Richard Meier: “The very personal work of Richard Meier and Associates” Architectural Forum Mar., v. 136, n. 2 (1972): 30-37 and James Stirling: “Stirling in Scozia” Domus Oct., n. 491 (1970): 5-15.

For further information on Vesely’s design studio see: Vesely and Mostafavi, Architecture and Continuity (Architectural Association Press, London, 1982) in which the notion of typical situations is fully explained.
The terms quoted here are taken from an email to the author (7.4.03) from Vesely where he explains the ‘situatedness of consciousness’ as concerning: “the role of the body, corporeal scheme and space (the move from Husserl to Merleau Ponty), and eventually interest in Heidegger and his notion of the structured world manifested in the most concrete form (manner) as situation.”

Dalibor Vesely interview with author (at the Architectural Association) 22.1.02

Ibid.

JR interview with author (21.1.03)

Rykwert, Preliminary observations for a Proposed MA scheme in the History and Theory of Architecture, 7th February 1967 UoE Archives. The extent and means whereby the students of the course took up this challenge varied. Daniel Libeskind’s (architect and Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania) subsequent use of the idea of the ‘creative artist on campus’ has proved very different to the pedagogic and scholarly activities of Alberto Perez-Gomez, Robert Tavernor (Professor and Head of Architecture at the University of Bath, and collaborator with Rykwert on the translation of Alberti’s “On the Art of Buildings” and other projects) and David Leatherbarrow, for example, each of whom has developed their own clear position.

The IAUS, led at the time by Peter Eisenmann, began in his office as a research forum seeking alternatives to traditional forms of education and practice. In 1971, a public exhibition program began, followed by the publication of Oppositions starting in 1974. The IAUS education program began in 1973 in collaboration with a consortium of liberal arts colleges and universities. The articulation of the IAUS work to an outside audience was an important means to its legitimisation.

Letter from JR to the Vice-Chancellor (Sloman) 20th July 1971, UoE Archives.

Festchsrifts were held for Rowe at Cornell and Rykwert at the University of Pennsylvania, where he had been a Professor of Architecture between 1988 and 1998, very close together in 1996.

Colin Rowe and Fred Koettler, Collage City (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1978)

A useful introduction to Rowe’s position can be found in Alexander Caragonne, The Texas Rangers: notes from an architectural underground (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1995)

The Bartlett, for example, has a 12 month MArch studio in architectural design led by Peter Cook, and 10 MSc programmes defining discrete fields, including architectural history, housing futures, facility and environment management, and light and lighting. The AA has a graduate school offering 8 distinct programmes in, for example, histories and theories of architecture, emergent technologies, housing and urbanism and building conservation.

This refers to the process of architectural education in Britain defined by the RIBA, in which three levels have to be achieved before registration – part 1 after the first degree, part 2 after the second, and part 3 after professional examinations.

In a letter to Rykwert of 1970 Berry outlined the beginnings of an architectural education perceived as being larger than the vocational. He quotes RIBA policy, stating that due to the predicted doubling of student numbers over ten years architecture schools should respond by providing non-vocational courses. “Society’s response to and support for an efficient and pleasant environment implies a greater awareness on the part of the public for environmental refinement. Thus the RIBA is to encourage Schools of Architecture to promote general courses in architectural studies as a preparation for a wider range of careers and not for a particular vocation,”
he wrote. He was particularly interested in “the introduction of specialisation in the area of architectural psychology,” that presumably drew from a pragmatic reading of syllabus descriptions of Vesely’s course in Phenomenology. Quotes are taken from a letter to Rykwert from Berry, 8th December 1970, UoE Archives.

Joseph Rykwert, “Architecture and the Public Good,” in Research and Practice in Architecture (Helsinki: Building Information Ltd, 2001) p. 13.

Helen Powell (Mallinson), interview with author 3.7.02. In an interview with author, 21.1.03, Joseph Rykwert explained that, due to the financial difficulties faced by the course due to its independent nature, “We [JR and Paul Regan, head of the School of Architecture at Central Poly at the time], cooked up the plan that I was going to take some Central Poly students, and he was going to contribute Dalibor’s fees.”

David Leatherbarrow, interview with author (email) 10.7.02

This refers not only to schools of architecture like the Bartlett and the AA, but also to speculative and policy-forming fora such as ‘Building Futures’ sponsored by the RIBA and the Commission for the Built Environment (CABE) and think tanks such as Institute for Public Policy Research.

Vesely, “unpublished manuscript” ‘Introduction’ p. 2

Letter to the Editor, David Porter, “Lost in the Backlash” in Architectural Research Quarterly Vol. 5 no. 1 2001 p. 5. Porter also refers to “the understandable backlash against the crude and reductive functionalism that marked education in the ‘60s,” but does not link this with the intentions of Rykwert and Vesely.

Ed. McCorquodale, Ruedi, Wigglesworth, Desiring Practices: Architecture, Gender and the Interdisciplinary (London: Black Dog, 1996) p. 9.

Don Delillo, White Noise (London, Picador, 1986, first edition 1984). “He is now your Hitler, Gladney’s Hitler… The college is internationally known as a result of Hitler studies. It has an identity, a sense of achievement. You’ve evolved an entire system around this figure, a structure with countless substructures and interrelated fields of study, a history within history. I marvel at the effort. It was masterful, shrewd and stunningly pre-emptive. Its what I want to do with Elvis.” p. 11-12.

This may account for the renewal of interest in groups like Archigram, who received the RIBA Gold Medal in 2002.

Michael Speakes, “Tales from the Avant-Garde” Architectural Record December 2000 pp. 74 – 7.

Invention in the Shadow of History
Joseph Rykwert at the University of Essex

“Mr. Rykwert is not really concerned with the history of an idea – an idea that never was – but with a cluster of associations for which he looks in the writings of modern architects, in architectural treatises of the past, in ancient legend and religious rituals,” wrote Ernst Gombrich. In his 1973 review of Joseph Rykwert’s book On Adam’s House in Paradise, Gombrich identifies the core of Rykwert’s approach – a re-examination of the minutiae of history at its source. For Gombrich and others of his generation, however, the uses to which Rykwert put this research (here in a written context, but also in a pedagogic one) placed him outside the mainstream, to his detriment. One of this paper’s subjects of inquiry is this outsider’s position, both in terms of the institutional environment that Rykwert inhabited, and in his academic work.

Collaborators, like Dalibor Vesely, George Baird, Antoine Grumbach, and students of the masters course that Rykwert taught at the University of Essex would later define a group of influential teachers, writers and architects. In 1996, a Festschrift was held for Rykwert at the University of Pennsylvania, where he had been Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture since 1988. Even so, in his 2002 introduction to the publication of Rykwert’s Festschrift papers, Body and Buildings George Baird had to admit that “It is not easy to identify precisely the place of Joseph Rykwert in the international architectural academy.” One of the reasons that he identifies for this is “the lack of ready transmissibility” of Rykwert’s writing and teaching, but clarity was not one of Rykwert’s ambitions.

The Preface to Rykwert’s earliest book, The Idea of a Town, provides a clue to the thinking behind his idiosyncratic approach to history, architecture and the urban: “The town is not really like a natural phenomenon. It is an artefact – an artefact of a curious kind, compounded of willed and random elements, imperfectly controlled, if it is related to physiology at all, it is more like a dream than anything else.”

Here, Rykwert is advocating a break down of the accepted systems of historical knowledge. The whole is presented in fragments of narrative and fact in his writings, in an often non-linear format. Whether this approach is also true of his teaching is examined below in the context of his masters course at the University of Essex.

Rykwert at Essex
In October 1968 three men embarked on the first postgraduate course in the History and Theory of Architecture, so marking a deep-seated shift in the possibilities of architectural discourse. This masters course was held in the Department of Art at the new University of Essex, rather than in a School of Architecture. It aligned itself to a well-established academic field as a trajectory of Art History, thus avoiding problems of academic identity that architectural history and theory had suffered previously as an adjunct to vocational training.

Looking back, its founding professor, architect and historian Joseph Rykwert said, “I wrote a programme which suggested that art history should be taught quite differently from the Courtauld method. Not on the basis of connoisseurship and the chromatics, but on the basis of a socially committed art history in which you start off by looking at objects and not necessarily paintings, and treat them all as evidence of how they were made in their context. Then you look at the city as the context of the works.”

Rykwert’s aim was to transform the subject matter and context of art history. He sought to shift the context of critique from closed and self-referential systems, such as the vast and deep iconographies of the Warburg library, and other frameworks of expert authority, such as those defined at the Courtauld Institute. His alternative was the wide-open and unknown territory of history’s “motivating conditions.” His approach aligned with that of the University of Essex’ young, American vice-chancellor, Albert Sloman. He wanted to create an ‘anti-university’ to overturn the ivory-tower perception of academia. The university would be an institution embedded in society, and totally indivisible as a separate structure.

In 1967, the Department of Art was set up in the School of Comparative Studies alongside the existing Departments of Literature, Government and Politics, and Sociology. The arrangement was that first year students, in addition to the visual arts, would “study literature, politics and society and the relationship linking the arts with these other aspects of contemporary cultural scene.” In Rykwert’s own words, study of the Enlightenment was the key to engagement with the modern and the prevailing within the School of Comparative Studies: “it started with the Enlightenment … Everyone had to be able to teach social history, literature, philosophy and art. All the components had to be taught by everybody – we all taught Enlightenment. After that the students then elected a school. So in the first year we had to capture students for the history of art.”

The University of Essex and the School of Comparative Studies in particular, therefore, showed a new willingness to engage with a wider, more chaotic world and to consider art and architecture as a vital articulation of it. The particular geographical and historical legacy of the European Enlightenment lay at its core. The significance of the Enlightenment as a period when knowledge became codified within discrete scientific discourses lay beneath the identity of the School of Comparative Studies. New (sociology) and old (literature) disciplines were deliberately brought together in the same school to the extent that they were merged in the first year. The structure of the School of Comparative Studies was a challenge to Enlightenment traditions. Its synthetic nature was in opposition to the multiplication and isolation of academic disciplines produced by Enlightenment codifications and ensuing specialization of knowledge.

The creative energy of the new, unprecedented masters scheme in the history and theory of architecture sprang from the Enlightenment too. The study of Enlightenment and pre-Enlightenment texts, architects and buildings formed the basis of critical reappraisal. Interest in the Enlightenment was not merely historical, however, for it defined the rationalist foundations of modernism that the course sought to challenge. In this sense, Rykwert was moving beyond merely providing an alternative to the Courtauld method. He was also filling a gap in current architectural education in Britain at the time.

“No-one was teaching history of architecture in schools, far less ideas. There wasn’t any kind of philosophical debate in my experience and I think for the people around,” reminisced John McKean, an early masters student. Architectural history was a study of precedent in British architectural schools, which followed a rationalist epistemology leading straight from the Enlightenment to contemporary reflections on modern architecture. Rykwert proposed going back to the sources of these assumptions, which he found in key texts and treatises, in order to study them in depth. The reconstruction of a new history via concentrated and rigorous analysis was possible by carefully rereading these texts, and a new relationship between the Ancients and the Moderns could be established that questioned this scientistic organisation of knowledge.

Several students who subsequently took the course, some of whose later work responded directly to this ambition, have remarked upon the close focus of study. Alberto Perez-Gomez, who was a masters student between 1973 and 1974, said that “Joseph … went in depth and "unpacked" the texts for us. His "agenda" was to teach us to read carefully and with respect, to hear the answers to our own questions though the texts.”

A later student, Helen Powell, remembered that during “the first four, six weeks, we looked at one paragraph of Alberti and that was a complete shock to the system. That was in the morning with Joseph, and Descartes in the afternoon with Dalibor. I was just completely and utterly taken aback by the whole thing, by the intensity of it.”

While Rykwert searched for the origins of ideas by travelling in time toward the Enlightenment, his colleague Dalibor Vesely looked back from the 20th century, as Perez-Gomez described:
“For me their approach worked very well together. Joseph went "forward" from Vitruvius to the 18th century, Dalibor "backward" from phenomenology to the 19th century ending with Semper.”

Rykwert taught a seminar course described in the syllabus as:
“Theoretical literature of architecture before 1800
This will inevitably centre on the Italian treatises of the XVIth and the XVIIth centuries, and the French literature of the XVIIIth. Particular weight will be given to the implications of theory for contemporary practice.”

Vesely’s course was described as:
“The phenomenology and psychology of perception; their implications for methods of design
The implications of both social and individual psychology of design standards will be treated, with particular reference to orientation and perceptual ambivalence, the function of the memory and perception, the nature of the relationship between the design processes, the cultural limitations of perception, the deductive operation of the designer and its perceptual implications.”

Vesely had trained as an architect like Rykwert, but in Czechoslovakia rather than England. Rykwert had arrived in England as a schoolboy refugee from occupied Poland and then studied architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture (University College London) and the Architectural Association (AA). He studied art history informally at the Warburg Institute later on. Vesely met Rykwert at the library of the Royal College of Art in London, where he was the librarian, in 1964. Rykwert invited Vesely to leave Prague and join him at the University of Essex when he took the post as Chairman of the Department of Art in 1967. Vesely’s position was never institutionally formalised.

Vesely’s architectural education had also been supplemented by the study of Art History, but he had followed a different route to Rykwert in challenging the establishment. He attended Czech philosopher Jan Patocka’s clandestine, subversive seminars in the philosophy of art that proved important in his subsequent thinking and teaching. He became interested in the phenomenology and psychology of perception under Patocka. This interest would later define his masters seminar course, and he brought with him questions that were unusual and fascinating to the Anglo-Saxon imagination. The content of the course that Vesely taught on the masters course was deeply philosophical, concerned with perception and conception, but there was a deliberate intention toward practical application. This attempt to deepen understanding of architectural practice as a means to its implementation was an important characteristic of both Vesely’s teaching and the course in general.
The university’s course prospectus, however, is entitled a ‘Graduate scheme of study in The History and Theory of Architecture,’ which is again echoed in Rykwert’s seminar course description. This wording suggests a separation between the intellectual and the vocational practice of architecture that both Rykwert and Vesely sought to bridge. Their perception of the academic identity of the course and its design and vocational implications were intrinsic to the sympathy that they had for each other’s differing intellectual approaches. Rykwert embodied the duality of the practical and the academic in his persona. He perceived of himself as a practising architect as well as a teacher, and wrote at two scales: as the critical journalist and as the introverted academic. Whilst acting as professor he published two books: The Idea of a Town (1963 in Forum, 1976) and On Adam’s House in Paradise (1972), and wrote another: The First Moderns published in 1980. He also wrote many articles for journals as varied as Casabella, Oppositions and the Architectural Review.

Vesely, at the time, separated the intellectual from the practical geographically – he ran seminars on the phenomenology and psychology of perception at Essex and a design studio at the AA. In his own words, the Essex seminars explored the “situatedness of consciousness,” while the AA design studio developed the notion of “typical situations.” He worked toward an internal synthesis through his teaching: “The interesting thing to admit, well I remember sitting on a train between London and Colchester and doing the phenomenology over there and the studio here. I remember always being puzzled and anxious to see what I couldn’t see - how those two could possibly eventually connect. It is interesting how long it took to see whether they really had a common ground, and to reflect on that legwork of seeking subtly for it. It became very neat, the concreteness of pragmatism almost. It took me several years. I was in a state of schizophrenia. I could see certain things, little flashes of light, but not really continuity between one and the other which I found puzzling.”

The point where he and Rykwert met was in their intention to develop an understanding of architecture within a deep cultural context that connected the past to the present. Vesely explained that his teaching “was orientated toward understanding the long-term cultural experience, which means the notion of historical context. But, it was not seen as something that you could take as historical precedent, or just a move into history. It was already in a way an anticipation of the hermeneutical circle that you take certain things from the background, from the deeper kind of context in time. But you permanently speak about it from where you are, which means that it is always again and again the 20th century.”

The complex and ambiguous nature of Rykwert and Vesely’s ambitions to review the rationalist foundations of modern architecture through the study of history and philosophy proved problematic in terms of the pragmatic reality of the masters course in its institutional context. “The scheme of study will be a self-contained programme for students who are familiar with the basic notions of planning and designing and who also have some experience of architectural and design office practice,” stated the prospectus. From the beginning the masters course was intended to serve students already trained as designers who were able to engage with architectural ideas and specialist means of communication. They were set apart from all other students of the University of Essex - including those in the Department of Art itself – by the fact that they could read and understand plans and sections. This was reinforced by the statement that“It is envisaged that this course will attract students who have reached the intermediate RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] level or beyond, or who hold a first degree in engineering or industrial design.” Rykwert’s position as to the identity of the course in relation to the Department was ambiguous from the very beginning.

“I made it a condition of accepting the post [as Chairman of the Department of Art] that I would run this postgraduate course in architecture. There was a lot of argy bargy in the Senate about that because they were worried that I was really trying to insert a school of architecture. I had to take it on the sole undertaking that I was not,” he said, but even before his official appointment began, Rykwert was pointing out that: “Regrets have always been expressed that no place for practising artists has been found within the curriculum of the department. While the course may not correspond with the concept of the ‘creative artist on the campus’, it nevertheless introduces into the university artists practising one of the essential disciplines studied by undergraduates in the department.”

The autonomy created by this strategy of recruitment and study was a significant issue, for it restricted the academic identity of the course by denying access to students who had followed a traditional academic route by studying, for example, art history. This intrinsically separated it from the Department of Art and the School of Comparative Studies, which defined its institutional contexts. It also complicated its position in relation to existing design courses in traditional schools of architecture. An understanding of the design process was integral to the approach to the academic material of the course, although design was never explicitly taught in the course.

The uneasiness of the relationship between the masters course and its institutional context would have significant consequences, discussed later. For the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS), which was setting up at the same time in New York, a distance between its intellectual activity and its institutional contexts was also nurtured. In this case the separation was deliberate, and the IAUS built up a strong academic identity in architectural circles before aligning itself with established institutions, like the schools of architecture at Princeton, Columbia and Yale. Rykwert’s masters course did not have such a strong position, and there is evidence that the IAUS tried to help Rykwert’s masters course consolidate itself within the university. It offered a Junior Fellowship for its own course that was conditional upon the candidate taking the masters course in architecture at Essex.

Colin Rowe’s teaching at Cornell University during the 1960s provides another important counterpart to Rykwert’s teachings at the University of Essex. While this will not be explored in depth here, there is an interesting relationship between Rykwert’s simultaneously scholarly, textual and anecdotal approach to architectural history and challenge to Enlightenment legacies, and Rowe’s advocacy of an anti-utopian contextualist critique of modernism. Rowe’s teachings of the 1960s were articulated in the book he published with Fred Keottler in 1978, called Collage City. Like Rykwert, Rowe challenged the abstract and reductive nature of modernist architecture and its impoverishing effects on the urban environment. Both men used techniques of fragmentation and disassociation of artifact and ideas from the canon, but where Rykwert’s material was intellectual and textual, Rowe’s was visual and formalist.

Both Rowe and Rykwert reacted against the formalization of academic disciplines. Rykwert’s masters course in the ‘history and theory of architecture’ subsequently suffered within its institutional context in the University of Essex in a way that seems unthinkable now in England. Today, postgraduate (and increasingly undergraduate) architectural education has multiple specializations (such as housing, emergent technology, history and theory, soundscapes). Often these do not need to communicate across their boundaries, or even remain confined to schools of architecture. This is a different situation to the one Rykwert faced. Then, the difficulties associated with studying architecture in a way that was not explicitly vocational meant that the masters course could not connect to its home in the Department of Art at the University of Essex. It was not part of an architecture school, nor was it an accredited means of attaining exemption from the RIBA’s exam structure. As an independent subject, this meeting of architectural history and practice was not confident enough, not real enough yet, to exist independently of professional training. Issues of funding, grants and student subsidies affected the economic viability of a course that contributed nothing to the institution in which it was based.

Various attempts were made by Rykwert to reconcile the course within some kind of supportive institutional framework. There was an unsuccessful negotiation with Dennis Berry, principal of Kingston School of Architecture, regarding a semi-formal association. Robert Maxwell, Director of Professional Education at the Bartlett School of Architecture, initiated an exchange of letters with Rykwert. These sought to include Rykwert’s one-year masters course as part of the RIBA part II requirement at the Bartlett, as a replacement for a Field Experience Year. This, too, was fruitless since the RIBA refused to accept a masters course in history and theory as a possible substitute for a year of a ‘professional’ course. Thirty years later Rykwert was to point out that his critical teaching and research programme at Essex was “seen as useless by some “academic” groups – but almost as a threat by others. Sometime after it was approved and announced the Vice-Chancellor asked to see me. He had been telephoned … by the Education Secretary of the RIBA and – to his shocked surprise – instructed that he was to suppress the proposed course.”

Sufficient status to survive its self-imposed isolation within the Department of Art was never achieved by Rykwert for his masters course. Only four years after its beginnings in a physics laboratory situated at the edges of a building site in Wivenhoe Park outside Colchester, the course began slowly to rethink its geographical location in relation to the University of Essex. Tutorials took place on railway platforms and in train carriages on the one-hour journey from London’s Liverpool Street Station to Colchester North Station. Seminars began to be held in people’s kitchens in North London in addition to the new rooms of the Department of Art in Essex. A fugitive status was gradually assumed, and by 1973 seminars were held exclusively in the basement kitchen of the Soane Museum in Holborn, London, kindly made available by John Summerson who was then curator. A few years later Hugh Casson loaned his office at the Royal Academy, which was used in conjunction with basement print rooms designated for architecture.

Thus the masters course became tenuous in its material reality, depending to a greater degree on its social relations, rather like a group of itinerant entertainers for whom physical location is irrelevant. The personal charisma of Rykwert and Vesely as protagonists played an important part in holding everything together. Much remembered is Rykwert’s avuncular presence, and his adherence to the rituals of tea and coffee drinking. Fortnum and Mason’s took on a key role within the geography of the masters seminars in later years.

“I got the feeling that Joseph was the stable person that set up not just the administration but the fact that you had tea and that someone was always organised to bring biscuits. There was the sense of civilization, an order of business that Joseph was very responsible for. There was a kind of ethos to the way one was expected to participate,” said Helen Powell, a student during the Royal Academy days who was recruited through a successful informal collaboration with the Central Polytechnic. Fellow student David Leatherbarrow was to concur: “just as important as the Royal Academy was Fortnum and Masons across the street. At the first meeting of the seminar, Joseph took the whole group there to select and buy all the apparatus for making coffee. The context we had was limited to those who participated in the seminar.”

The extent to which the masters course evaded institutional validation for intellectual reasons was balanced only by its attempts to seek institutional support for economic ones. This elusion of a clearly defined identity can be read as a deliberate strategy for intellectual freedom and experimentation. The role of the intellectual as critic is compromised when their voice speaks not from the edges, but with the confidence of an incorporated establishment position. Then the critic is deprived of their most crucial weapon - that of a critical perspective. On one level Rykwert remained deeply establishment - his appointment as Chairman of the Department of Art was facilitated by his membership of the elite gentlemen’s Savile Club - but on another level he was intensely and deliberately radical. His stance against the Courtauld was just part of a personal history of anti-institutional conduct.

Today the situation is very different for those organising postgraduate studies in architecture than it was for Rykwert at the University of Essex. ‘Critical Practices’ take place at the very centre of the architectural establishment and are usually deeply embedded within a specific institution. They are no longer radical or itinerant but profoundly institutionalized. In postgraduate programs at schools of architecture, such as Princeton, there are seminar courses to reflect on the origins of the IAUS, while in Britain the question of what a critical practice might be, its media and methodologies, is asked confidently and almost exclusively within educational and government-sponsored institutions. As Vesely has recently pointed out: “The rather narrow contemporary vision of architecture as a discipline that can be treated as an instrument, or as a commodity, is the result of a transformation in which the broadly oriented art of building became a separate profession, judged mostly by the criteria of technical disciplines.”

It is to this issue, architecture as a commodifiable cultural practice, that we now turn in conclusion.
The definition of specialist ‘practices’ within the discourse of architecture has its roots in the Enlightenment structures of thought that Rykwert and Vesely sought to challenge. Some commentators, however, see Rykwert and Vesely as catalysts to an increasing articulation and separation of intellectual domains: “’Theory’ was at that time [the 1960s] held to be a branch of systems analysis or ‘methodology’ and it became apparent to students of that period (including me) that we were witnessing the emergence of what we would now call ‘anoraks’ – a generation of pseudo-scientists quantifying the obvious at the expense of architectural culture. At this point, and under the influence of Joseph Rykwert and Dalibor Vesely, theory was unhitched from methodology and realigned as a subset of history, a linkage that provides the orthodoxy for locating theory within architectural education but leaves theory distanced from many aspects of practice.”

This statement raises the question of whether the Essex masters course unwittingly enabled the release of architectural theory from the practice of architecture at the moment of its tenuous integration with it. In 1975 the masters course became an MPhil programme, and in 1979 Rykwert and Vesely moved from the Department of Art at the University of Essex to the School of Architecture at the University of Cambridge. Here, in a School of Architecture at last, an explicit engagement with the design process became possible. This influenced the work produced in Vesely’s unit at the AA, and his students began to produce an identifiable body of work associated with a process of drawing and design.

Contemporaneous to the Essex course, however, were the experiments of the IAUS. Here a separation between theory and practice, with theory coming first, was again a deliberate strategy. Theory as an entity that both preceded and informed design was developed and made accessible to a wide and still growing audience. The relationships that Rykwert and Vesely sought to forge between the cultural, the historical and the practical were more difficult to grasp - especially visually - and less mediated. They were, therefore, less accessible.

In 1968, radical architectural education began questioning the relationship between theory and practice afresh, and the foundations of new types of architectural study were laid. In the thirty-five years between then and now postgraduate study in architecture has become a booming business. Architectural history and theory masters courses have become vocational in themselves. They are responding to the career opportunities available to those engaged in the culture of architecture, rather than in its material production. The term theory tends to define methodological rather than philosophically based ideas as the production of theory and the construction of theoretical situations engender new, autonomous architectural practices. The preface to a symposium held at Kingston University in 1995, “Desiring Practices,” illustrates an English example: “these texts stretch definitions of ‘architecture’ and ‘practice’ far beyond their current limits and instead establish gender and desire as their common ground.”

The practical aspects of research and its application in relation to its audience define teaching programs intent on throwing light upon a process or a situation, rather than engaging with the unknown. A self-conscious academic Enlightenment concerned with methodology over content has replaced the dark corners that Rykwert and Vesely found so useful. Instructions on how to research (mine archives, describe photographs, carry out interviews) and produce (write journalistic articles and make radio and television broadcasts) prove very useful to students, but sometimes supersede deep analysis of texts and ideas.

Almost twenty years ago Don Delillo wrote a parody of academia that he called White Noise, evoking the hum of voices that speak into a world quite separate from its subject. Since then the industry of education has more than measured up to his predictions, requiring tight articulations of identity and academic intent in order to survive in an increasingly competitive market. This increase in theory’s potential as a practice unto itself, while dynamic in creating new possibilities, has brought its relationship with architectural production into crisis.

On one level, it has again been co-opted by the ‘anoraks’ mentioned in the quote above, but more interestingly, it is seen to have become irrelevant. The degradation of European philosophies into theory or “fast philosophy,” so ably described by Michael Speakes, depended on a distinction between the avant-garde and the commercial world that cannot exist when the critical voice speaks at the center. The design of inhabited material environments can not engage with practices that define, for example, the page as a site for material intervention. At that moment the reciprocity of text and action, architectural theory and practice, is lost.

Endnotes
Ernst Gombrich, “Review of ‘On Adam’s House in Paradise’. Dream Houses.” The New York Review of Books 29th November (1973) (from web-archive: www.nybooks.com/archives/)

George Baird, “Introduction “A Promise as Well as a Memory”: Toward an Intellectual Biography of Joseph Rykwert” in George Dodds and Robert Tavernor eds., Body and Building: essays on the changing relation of body and architecture (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 2001) p.3

Kenneth Frampton adds his voice to those of Gombrich and Banham in his 1973 review of On Adam’s House in Paradise in Architecture Plus July (1973): 8-9, 73, when he says, as Baird points out, that his main problem with the book was the author’s “failure to make himself clear.”

Joseph Rykwert, The Idea of a Town (London: Faber and Faber, 1976) pp. 23 – 24.

In this context, Baird’s comparison of Rykwert with Foucault is interesting; he says “he has lost confidence in the efficacy or legitimacy of grand intellectual systems or systematic social or historical projects. By the same token, he is of a generation [i.e. not that of Gombrich, or even Banham] that abandoned notions of progress in history.” This is an issue discussed further below. See Baird, “Introduction “A Promise as Well as a Memory”: Toward an Intellectual Biography of Joseph Rykwert” p. 22.

Joseph Rykwert (JR), in his preliminary observations for a ‘Proposed MA scheme in the History and Theory of Architecture to begin in October 1968’ University of Essex (UoE) archives 17th February 1967, said: “There is at present no course of this nature being offered at any school of architecture or university in this country; or indeed anywhere else that I know of.” The Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) in New York, for example, had begun as a non-profit independent agency concerned with research, education, and development in architecture and urbanism in 1967, but its institutionalised educational programme (undergraduate) did not begin until 1973.

Rykwert was officially appointed for three years as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Art from 1st October 1967, Reporter (University of Essex) no. 9 23rd December (1966): 10 University of Essex (UoE) Archives. The quote is from an interview with Joseph Rykwert by the author, 21.1.03. Rykwert also refers to the relationship between the city and its cultural artefacts throughout his book The Idea of a Town (London: Faber and Faber, 1976), which was first published in Forum (Amsterdam) in 1963, five years before the first year of the masters course. His preface, for instance, makes this relationship clear. The town is “an artefact of a curious kind, compounded of willed and random elements,” he says. The conceptual model of its inhabitants is constructed mentally, and is often exemplified in their homes. This relationship between inhabitant and city is the context for art and other cultural artefacts, as he states: “the elaborate geometrical and topological structure of the [Roman] town growing out of and growing round a system of custom and belief which made it a perfect vehicle for a culture and a way of life.” pp. 24 and 25.

At that time the principal schools of Art History within which architectural history was taught were the Courtauld Institute headed by Anthony Blunt, and the Warburg Institute, both of which were attached to the University of London. Rykwert studied intermittently under Wittkower at the Warburg Institute (see Kenneth Powell, “Interpreter of Meaning,” Architects’ Journal July 11th (1996): 20)

This term, ‘motivating conditions,’ is used by David Leatherbarrow in discussing the basic materials of the Masters programme: “They [the writings of author architects] were historical and responded to issues that arose in conditions that are different from ours, which meant we had to try our best to come to grips with ‘motivating conditions.’ In short our method was simple: discover the conditions to which the text might be seen as a response.” Extract from an email interview with author 10.7.02. David Leatherbarrow is Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Leatherbarrow had been a student of the phenomenology seminar course that Daniel Libeskind (an early masters student at Essex) taught in Kentucky.

Sloman’s opinion is given in an interview with John McKean, John McKean, “University of Essex, Case Study,” Architects’ Journal 20th September (1972): 645. McKean goes on to debate how far this ambition was manifest materially in the University’s location, plan and buildings (Rykwert himself was rather sceptical about this in his essay “Universities as Institutional Archetypes of our Age,” Zodiac 18 (Milan): 61-3) but this ambition is relevant too in the educational plan for the new University. John McKean is Professor of Architecture at the University of Brighton.

Introduction to 1967 prospectus for the School of Comparative Studies at the UoE, UoE archives, probably written by Joseph Rykwert.

JR interview with author 21.3.03 concurs with Michael Podro (interview with author 3.2.03), Rykwert’s successor as Chairman of the Department of Art from 1971, on the nature of the Enlightenment course.

John McKean, interview with author 4.7.02

Alberto Perez-Gomez, email interview with author 29.7.02. Alberto Perez-Gomez is Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor Architecture at McGill University. His first book, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1983) is based on the PhD dissertation he wrote under Rykwert and Vesely at Essex.

Helen Powell (Mallinson) interview with author 3.7.02. Helen Mallinson is ex-head of the School of Architecture and Interior Design. London Metropolitan University.

Perez-Gomez interview with author (email) 29.7.02.

These are the syllabus descriptions, whose authorship is not known. They remained largely unchanged throughout the duration of the masters course at Essex, 1968 – 1975 (from 1975 onwards the seminar courses are part of a two-year MPhil programme). There were two additional parts to the course: “The individual building and the total environment” and “The Nature of style and language in architecture,” taught by George Baird for the first three years, and then Antoine Grumbach.

Gregotti acknowledges this aspect of Rykwert’s work in reference to his writing when he says, “Thinking of him as an anthropologist of architectural history … helps explicate what it is that makes his work so invaluable to us – we architects, in particular, who often use his conclusions as the raw material of our projects.” Vittorio Gregotti “Epilogue. Joseph Rykwert: An Anthropologist of Architectural History” in George Dodds and Robert Tavernor eds., Body and Building: essays on the changing relation of body and architecture (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 2001) p.321

George Baird makes this point in Baird, “Introduction “A Promise as Well as a Memory”: Toward an Intellectual Biography of Joseph Rykwert” p. 5 when he points out that the popular view of Rykwert as an acquired intellectual taste fails to consider his career as a “reviewer of furniture and fashion.”

Rykwert’s journal articles engaged with both historical and contemporary architecture, including his essays on Eileen Gray: “Eileen Gray: two houses and an interior, 1926-1933” Perspecta v. 13-14 (1971): 66-73, Richard Meier: “The very personal work of Richard Meier and Associates” Architectural Forum Mar., v. 136, n. 2 (1972): 30-37 and James Stirling: “Stirling in Scozia” Domus Oct., n. 491 (1970): 5-15.

For further information on Vesely’s design studio see: Vesely and Mostafavi, Architecture and Continuity (Architectural Association Press, London, 1982) in which the notion of typical situations is fully explained.
The terms quoted here are taken from an email to the author (7.4.03) from Vesely where he explains the ‘situatedness of consciousness’ as concerning: “the role of the body, corporeal scheme and space (the move from Husserl to Merleau Ponty), and eventually interest in Heidegger and his notion of the structured world manifested in the most concrete form (manner) as situation.”

Dalibor Vesely interview with author (at the Architectural Association) 22.1.02

Ibid.

JR interview with author (21.1.03)

Rykwert, Preliminary observations for a Proposed MA scheme in the History and Theory of Architecture, 7th February 1967 UoE Archives. The extent and means whereby the students of the course took up this challenge varied. Daniel Libeskind’s (architect and Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania) subsequent use of the idea of the ‘creative artist on campus’ has proved very different to the pedagogic and scholarly activities of Alberto Perez-Gomez, Robert Tavernor (Professor and Head of Architecture at the University of Bath, and collaborator with Rykwert on the translation of Alberti’s “On the Art of Buildings” and other projects) and David Leatherbarrow, for example, each of whom has developed their own clear position.

The IAUS, led at the time by Peter Eisenmann, began in his office as a research forum seeking alternatives to traditional forms of education and practice. In 1971, a public exhibition program began, followed by the publication of Oppositions starting in 1974. The IAUS education program began in 1973 in collaboration with a consortium of liberal arts colleges and universities. The articulation of the IAUS work to an outside audience was an important means to its legitimisation.

Letter from JR to the Vice-Chancellor (Sloman) 20th July 1971, UoE Archives.

Festchsrifts were held for Rowe at Cornell and Rykwert at the University of Pennsylvania, where he had been a Professor of Architecture between 1988 and 1998, very close together in 1996.

Colin Rowe and Fred Koettler, Collage City (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1978)

A useful introduction to Rowe’s position can be found in Alexander Caragonne, The Texas Rangers: notes from an architectural underground (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1995)

The Bartlett, for example, has a 12 month MArch studio in architectural design led by Peter Cook, and 10 MSc programmes defining discrete fields, including architectural history, housing futures, facility and environment management, and light and lighting. The AA has a graduate school offering 8 distinct programmes in, for example, histories and theories of architecture, emergent technologies, housing and urbanism and building conservation.

This refers to the process of architectural education in Britain defined by the RIBA, in which three levels have to be achieved before registration – part 1 after the first degree, part 2 after the second, and part 3 after professional examinations.

In a letter to Rykwert of 1970 Berry outlined the beginnings of an architectural education perceived as being larger than the vocational. He quotes RIBA policy, stating that due to the predicted doubling of student numbers over ten years architecture schools should respond by providing non-vocational courses. “Society’s response to and support for an efficient and pleasant environment implies a greater awareness on the part of the public for environmental refinement. Thus the RIBA is to encourage Schools of Architecture to promote general courses in architectural studies as a preparation for a wider range of careers and not for a particular vocation,”
he wrote. He was particularly interested in “the introduction of specialisation in the area of architectural psychology,” that presumably drew from a pragmatic reading of syllabus descriptions of Vesely’s course in Phenomenology. Quotes are taken from a letter to Rykwert from Berry, 8th December 1970, UoE Archives.

Joseph Rykwert, “Architecture and the Public Good,” in Research and Practice in Architecture (Helsinki: Building Information Ltd, 2001) p. 13.

Helen Powell (Mallinson), interview with author 3.7.02. In an interview with author, 21.1.03, Joseph Rykwert explained that, due to the financial difficulties faced by the course due to its independent nature, “We [JR and Paul Regan, head of the School of Architecture at Central Poly at the time], cooked up the plan that I was going to take some Central Poly students, and he was going to contribute Dalibor’s fees.”

David Leatherbarrow, interview with author (email) 10.7.02

This refers not only to schools of architecture like the Bartlett and the AA, but also to speculative and policy-forming fora such as ‘Building Futures’ sponsored by the RIBA and the Commission for the Built Environment (CABE) and think tanks such as Institute for Public Policy Research.

Vesely, “unpublished manuscript” ‘Introduction’ p. 2

Letter to the Editor, David Porter, “Lost in the Backlash” in Architectural Research Quarterly Vol. 5 no. 1 2001 p. 5. Porter also refers to “the understandable backlash against the crude and reductive functionalism that marked education in the ‘60s,” but does not link this with the intentions of Rykwert and Vesely.

Ed. McCorquodale, Ruedi, Wigglesworth, Desiring Practices: Architecture, Gender and the Interdisciplinary (London: Black Dog, 1996) p. 9.

Don Delillo, White Noise (London, Picador, 1986, first edition 1984). “He is now your Hitler, Gladney’s Hitler… The college is internationally known as a result of Hitler studies. It has an identity, a sense of achievement. You’ve evolved an entire system around this figure, a structure with countless substructures and interrelated fields of study, a history within history. I marvel at the effort. It was masterful, shrewd and stunningly pre-emptive. Its what I want to do with Elvis.” p. 11-12.

This may account for the renewal of interest in groups like Archigram, who received the RIBA Gold Medal in 2002.

Michael Speakes, “Tales from the Avant-Garde” Architectural Record December 2000 pp. 74 – 7.