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Building technology is intertwined with the history of architecture. Through any cultural movement, architects chose an approach to the technical aspect of how a piece of architecture is constructed. Sometimes, this is simply an aesthetic approach to conceal or express. Often, it is more complex. Other times building technology is a key aspect in the development of architectural style. Engineers may not often consider this, as they are preoccupied with making technology work, not seeing it in the context of a greater, cultural expression. However, if we accept that, like art, architectural style is an expression of a zeitgeist, the treatment of building technology goes along with that spirit. This paper outlines a course in architectural theory that explores this idea – building technology as a part of architectural style – through a series of readings and discussions. The course surveys modern and contemporary architecture, from 1830 to present and looks specifically at how building structure is approached.

The instructor, a licensed architect and structural engineer, developed the course to broaden how both architecture and engineering students think about building technology and cultural representation. It is a course that focuses on ideas, not calculations, offering a Humanities credit and giving a new perspective to the work of engineers. Within this paper, the evolution of historical ideas that the course covers is described. The term “tectonic” is developed, along with its origins in the mid-19th century and its modern-day use. In addition, the role of the Industrial Revolution is discussed. Modernism relied heavily on technology, and the course looks specifically at building structure as part of this movement. After studying Modernism, the course also looks at Postmodernism, which is typically viewed as an antithetical to the tectonic ideal. The last few weeks of the course explore late 20th and 21st century writings and engineers, such as Kenneth Frampton, Neal Leach, and Cecil Balmond. The paper also outlines the course structure, as well as teaching strategies and academic goals. The topic lends itself to lively discussion, as many times topics to not contain a “black-and-white” answer, however motivating students to engage in such discussion is essential to its success.