Introduction: Teaching Architects

Val K Warke

There are very few architects, especially in the United States, who have had careers in which they constructed both noteworthy architecture and significant pedagogies.

One thinks at first, of course, of Walter Gropius, who, with a phalanx of talented collaborators, established the revolutionary Bauhaus program in Weimar, and designed there the school's equally revolutionary campus. Having arrived in the United States, his attempt at starting a similar venture at Harvard was arguably less successful, given the curricular inertia of such bastions of tradition. The central Bauhaus tenet of omitting all history from the curriculum—of starting anew—wouldn't fly at Harvard, although Gropius effectively repressed history in the required curriculum.

Perhaps more of an impact in the States was had by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago, later IIT, where he developed a highly-constrained curriculum that was able to recall some of the craft-based aspects of his post-Gropius tenure at the Bauhaus, though this was effectively limited by the apparent requirement for the students' continuous iteration of the doctrine posed by Mies's own architectural preoccupations.1

Interestingly, two of the most effective pedagogical models developed in the US in the latter part of the twentieth century were evolved by two individuals whose academic careers originated with the so-called "Texas Rangers" of the University of Texas at Austin: John Hejduk and Werner Seligmann.2 Both brought distinctive identities to preexisting schools, and influenced generations of educators with their academic innovations. Hejduk went on to head the Irwin S Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union; Seligmann effectively reestablished the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, with a number of stops along the way, most notably Cornell, the ETH, and Harvard. Both established innovative curricula that balanced the fundamentals of architectural education (which they understood to be history, theory, and technology) with deep commitments to spatiality and the poetics of the discipline: Hejduk with an emphasis on myth, literary tropes, and evocative sculptural form; Seligmann with an emphasis on spatial complexities, reinforced by material and structural distinctions, organizational strategies imported from music and painting, and the analysis and transformation of precedent.

As an architect, Hejduk's early work typically insisted on fastidious, hard-lined representations of methodically controlled formal schema, while his later work generally appeared as rough-hewn representations of an allegorical idiom that often verged on the private language of the confessional. Ultimately, Hejduk built very little, and so his drawings have become the larger part of his architectural legacy.

Seligmann, however, built quite a lot. His buildings and architectural projects intended for buildings were often a collage of modernist formal strategies, and were inevitably elegantly crafted, meticulously proportioned, spatially sophisticated, and occasionally even humorous (one thinks of the Olean Fire Station's Venetian palazzo-type front elevation à la the Ca’ d’Oro, A-B-? as it seeks its final "A" in the bocce court of the neighboring Italianate Christopher Columbus Lodge building) or demure (the Center Ithaca building is the ideal, quiet neighbor, despite its considerable size, much as one of its referents, Vignola's Loggia dei Banchi, plays an important supporting role in the city of Bologna). At the same time, and perhaps more importantly, his architecture reinforced his didactic inclinations and their evolutions, each a teachable case study, and often used as such: the buildings themselves represented a pedagogy made solid.


Val K Warke is an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at the Cornell University College of Art Architecture and Planning. He holds a BArch from Cornell and an MArch from Harvard.

Val was associated with Werner Seligman from 1974 until 1998.

Introduction page 1

1Notes are at the end of the Introduction, or by clicking here.