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ARCHT-550

Histories of architecture are full of descriptions of dead buildings. Historians, then, write eulogies, or at best, belated biographies. But if this is the case, then what was the cause of death, and who is responsible? The etymology of the term autopsy reveals that it is essentially an act of seeing oneself. But, just as the deceased can longer enquire into their own death, buildings are not aware of themselves, so an outside correspondent is needed. And thus the post-mortem begins. This course takes an overtly skeptical approach to historiography - the analysis and writing of architectural histories - treating them as various forms of aesthetic malpractice. For if works of architecture are works of art that dynamically participate in aesthetic performances (and thus very much "alive and kicking"), then any historian or critic who leaves a victim in stiff rigor mortis must be treated as a suspect. Each student will assume two roles: Investigator and Coroner. Not unlike homicide detectives, students will conduct rigorous investigations into the motives, alibis and "weapons" used in architectural murders. By carefully examining the corpse (building), students will also attempt to determine time and cause of death. The final submission will attempt the perverse exercise of the live autopsy, or pre-mortem. By visits to buildings in the Bay Area students will furnish visual material accompanied by written analyses seeking to treat the work as a living, aesthetic body. In the foreground of the interrogations and diagnoses compiled throughout the term, these living autopsies will exhibit the ability of the students to both critically engage with past interpretations of buildings and argue their own analytical and aesthetic positions.