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Exploring Theory and Design in 20th-Century Technology in Architecture

(Understanding Technology from an Architectural Perspective)

Dr. Arch. Jonathan Letzter


TWA Flight Center, NY (1959-62) Architect: Eero Saarinen

Photo: Jonathan Letzter, 2023

TWA Flight Center, NY (1959-62) Architect: Eero Saarinen

Photo: Jonathan Letzter, 2023

Throughout history, technological advancements have influenced the field of architecture, impacting design, construction methods, materials and the overall perception of architecture. Especially in the 20th century, technological innovations have significantly impacted architecture and enabled architects to explore new possibilities and challenge traditional architectural discourse.

In this course, technology is examined through historical-theoretical lenses, exploring questions related to representation, design and construction. The course provides a broad framework and offers an in-depth exploration of the dynamic intersection between architecture and technology through a series of case studies and architectural theories.

The students will examine how technological advancements changed architectural paradigms and assess the broader implications on the built environment. They will develop the ability to critically appreciate technology and its integration into various architectural components and consider what can be learned from the past to project into the future.

18/4 Introduction to 20th-Century Technology in Architecture


- Introduction
- Course Theme
- 20th-Century Theories in Architecture


Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture (Dover Publications, 1986)
Jencks, Charles and Kropf, Karl. Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture (Chichester: Academy Editions, 1997)
Harry Francis Mallgrave, David J. Goodman. An Introduction to Architectural Theory: 1968 to the Present (Wiley, 2011)
Banham, Reyber. Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (Architectural Press, 1960)


25/4 Perceiving the Technological Representation of Space

Technology enables the description and definition of space through both illustrations of maps and plans, as well as through physical elements that alter the perception of space. This lecture will explore how technological representations of space in architecture have evolved over time, from traditional methods to digital tools, and their impact on how we perceive and interact with the built environment.
Another fundamental physical and conceptual perception of space that facilitates technology is the use of the grid in architecture.


- Conceptual representation of space
- Grid in architecture
- I. M. Pei grid expression projects


- Le Corbusier Modulor
- Peter Eisenman House X - IV


Rosalind Krauss. “Grids,” October, 9, (Summer, 1979): 50-64.
Laurent Stalder. “‘New Brutalism’,’Topology’ and ‘Image’: some remarks on the architectural debates in England around 1950.” The Journal of Architecture, 22:5, 2017, 949-967.

Colin Rowe, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, The Architectural Review, 3 March 1947:
Elliot, James. The City in Maps: Urban Mapping to 1900. (London: The British Library, 1987)
Ludger Hovestadt. Beyond the Grid - Architecture and information technology applications of a digital architectonic (2010):
Guy Debord, Situationist International:
John Pickles, A History of Spaces Cartographic Reason, Mapping and the Geo-Coded World, London: Routledge, 2003


2/5 Construction Technology

(From Conceptual to Physical Elements)
Throughout history, architectural construction has swung between the exposure and disguise of supporting elements, utilizing various construction materials representing attitudes toward architectural design.
The Tower of Babel: Architecture as a Language compares architecture to the foundation of a society, akin to the construction of a building's foundation. It suggests that letters and text serve as the basis for language, forming its structure, while physical elements serve as the foundation for buildings or structures.


- Theories of language structure - Structuralism    
- exposed and disguised construction, throughout history    
- Brutalism and Concrete    

- Lever House and The Seagram Building, NY.
- Pompidou Center, Paris
- Construction and poetic Columns    


Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (Columbia University Press, 2011)

Signifier and the signified: Ferdinand de Saussure. Course in General Linguistics. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959)

Simulacrum: Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation (Semiotext(e), 1983)

Peter Rice, An Engineer Imagines (2017):


16/5 Exhibiting Technology

(Pavilions and Architectural exhibitions enhancing technology)
Architectural exhibitions and pavilions showcasing innovative technologies serve as a statement. These exhibitions raise the question: How do these technologies affect architectural perception?


- Exhibitions and Museums of architecture promoting technology

- MoMA Exhibitions: International Style, Deconstructivist Architecture, Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling
- Pavilions: Fun Palace, The Barcelona Pavilion, 1929 Philips Pavilion Expo '58, IBM Pavilion, New York World’s Fair Pavilion, 1964-5.

Hitchcock, Henry Russell and Philip Johnson. Modern Architecture: International Exhibition (Museum of Modern Art Catalog, 1932)
Hitchcock, Henry Russell and Philip Johnson. The International Style (W.W New York: Norton, 1966).
Mathews, Stanley. The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture, Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Feb., 2006), pp. 39-48
Zevi, Bruno. 1993. Architecture As Space: How to Look at Architecture. London: Hachette Books.


23/5 Domestic Technologies

The home is a place where we spend a significant portion of our lives, and its design and technologies play a crucial role in shaping our everyday experiences. Exploring the integration of technology in residential spaces and its impact on innovations in home architecture design.
The relationship between architecture and human behavior, including how design influences our mood, productivity, and well-being.


- Home Technology  

- Reyner Banham, a home is not a house

- Frankfurt Kitchen
- Dymaxion house
- Charles and Ray Eames House
- Co-op Himmelb(l)au - bubble    

Banham, a home is not a house:
Coop Himmelb(l)au, The Cloud: Organism for Living:
Charles and Ray Eames House:
Antonia Surmann, The Evolution of Kitchen Design A Yearning for a Modern Stone Age Cave:
From Vienna to Frankfurt Inside Core-House Type 7: A History of Scarcity through the Modern Kitchen:


13/6 Art, Ornamentation, and Media Representation

The integration of art, technology, and ornaments in architecture has been a defining characteristic of human civilization, shaping the built environment and our cultural identity.
Exploring the Intersection of art, technology and ornamentation and how it is embodied in architecture. The relationship between decoration and construction technology.
The base or foundation for design and architecture are two-dimensional drawings and computer screens. Therefore, there is a connection between architecture and art.


- The connection between media and architecture through technology    
- American dreams    

- Postmodernism, Society and Technology

- Architecture in the Age of Printing, The Medium is the Massage

- Arts and Crafts - from Bauhaus lamp to Le Corbusier's Objet-type

- Form Follow Technology

- New York Subway graphic design, Massimo Vignelli
- Googie architecture

- Jean Prouvé

Carpo, Mario. Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory (The MIT Press, 2001)
Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (Gingko Press, 2005)
Beatriz Colomina, X-Ray, AA Files, No. 76 (2019), pp. 189-197 (9 pages):
Goldstein, Carl. Teaching Art: Academies and Schools from Vasari to Albers, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Kepes, Gyorgy. Language of Vision, (Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1944). Cullen, Gordon. Townscape (New York: Rheinhod, 1961).

Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas (MIT Press, 1972)
Loos, Adolf, Ornament and Crime, 1908
The Serious Relationship of Art and Technology:
The Growing Relationship between Art and Technology:
Art in the Information Age: Technology and Conceptual Art:
Crinson, Mark. “Eye wandering the ceiling: ornament and the new Brutalism.” Art History 41 (2) 2018, pp. 318-343.
John Berger / Ways of Seeing, Episode 1 (1972):


30/5 Feast of Corpus Christi
6/6 Tour
13/6 Mid Semester Presentations

27/6 The Digital Revolution in Architecture

Introduction to digital technologies in architectural design, the influence of computers and software on the design process, along with case studies on digitally-driven architectural projects.


- The Third Industrial Revolution

- Archaeology of the Digital

- Cybernetic Technology

- Gordon Pask

- Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952-1982 / LACMA, Los Angeles

- History of Robots


- Frank Gehry first digital projects
- Calatrava Projects

- Parametric Design Tools

- Introduction of CAD software in the 1960s and 1970s (CATIA)

- Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982 (LACMA Exhibition)

Antoin Picon, Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions (Birkhäuser, 2010):

Greg Lynn, Archaeology of the Digital: Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Chuck Hoberman, Shoei Yoh (Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2013):

4/7 CityScape, Skyscrapers and Transportation

The Industrial Revolution played a pivotal role in shaping architecture and led to the development of skyscrapers. This lesson explores the integration of mass production techniques in building design and their impact on urban planning, specifically focusing on the rise of skyscrapers.


- Technologies of Skyscrapers

- Megastructure    

- Relationship between Skyscrapers and transportation


- The Skyscraper Museum

- Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) Skyscrapers

- Ford Assembly line 

11/7 Sustainability and Technology in Architecture

The emergence of sustainable technologies in architecture, green building practices, and eco-friendly materials, along with case studies on sustainable architectural projects and prefabrication, are key topics in contemporary architectural discourse. Moreover, architecture sometimes fails in projects that create a greenwash.


-Eco-tech architectural

- Sustainable architecture


- Biosphere 2 

- Gray Water Technology
Recyclable Architecture: Prefabricated and Recyclable Typologies:

Iron Jungle – Nature’s Return to the Ruhr Valley:
Prefab, Lustron Homes:

Fernie, E. 1995. Art History and Its Methods, Part I, 10-21, and section on Wolfflin. 


More Reading:
Tafuri, M. 1980. Theories and History of Architecture. Operative Criticism 141. 
Vidler, A. (2008). Histories of the Immediate Present, 191-200
Anderson, S. 1991. The Legacy of German Neoclassicism and Biedermeier: Behrens, Tessenow, Loos, and Mies.” Assemblage 15

Pevsner, N. 1936. Pioneers of the Modern Movement. 

Eero Saarinen projects

Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology (1949) 
Jeremy Bentham, Panopticon: Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Vintage, 1995)

Final task

Final Task

Students will work individually or in pairs to create the final presentation, which consists of:

1. Printed Poster
2. 2-3 page Explanation


1. Choose or focus on one of the following subjects related to technology:

- A building/project

- Architect (specific project, a theme repeating in projects)
- Technological element that repeats in several architectural projects
- Elements/innovations such as column, window, or furniture
- Materials (glass, steel, aluminum, plastic)

2. Analyze the chosen subject, considering:

- The decade it was developed
- Its background and influences
- Historical data, including journals from that decade/period
- The atmosphere of the decade, including how commercials, advertisements, and articles promoted ideas
- Other projects from that era

3. Plan, create, and design a poster inspired by the technology and representation of the chosen decade. The poster should include:

- Title and subtitle
- Text (paragraphs)
- Visual elements (images, details)
- Fonts and sizes referencing the typography of the era
- Techniques typical of the period

Reference Links:

- US Modernist scanned Journals

- Bavarikon Bayerns digitale Schatzkammer:

- Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München

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