Global History of Architecture


One of my favorite classes at MIT was 4.605 (Global History of Architecture), which explored various styles and themes found throughout different buildings and other types of architecture from the beginning of civilization to the present. In the spirit of sharing my enthusiasm for the course i'll discuss some takeaways from, and have included a couple papers i wrote for, the class.

dougong at Sagami-ji temple

One of my favorite classes at MIT was 4.605 - Introduction to the History and Theory of Architecture. It explored various styles and themes found in different buildings and other types of architecture from the beginning of civilization to the present. It was accompanied by an excellent book—A Global History of Architecture—and a teacher who had enthusiasm to spare for the subject, Mark Jarzombek.

Originally taken instead of learning Chinese (i'm look at you old HASS-D requirements), the class proved to be informative and endlessly fun. Learning about flying buttresses, mandapas, dougongs, muqarnas, and a variety of other structure, customs, and ideas opened my eyes to what i missed when going abroad to Europe and elsewhere. Now when i travel, my eye is always on the lookout for the influences hidden within the style of many buildings. For example, consider the classical capitals: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. They each convey a different meaning; now, when walking around government centers or universities, i tend to look at see which style they opted for, as that gives some indication as to what the architect was thinking in terms of what that structure, and by extension organization/institute that occupies it, stands for.

the beautiful Sun Temple at Modhera

Like all classes, it consisted of writing, quizzes and exam-taking. But much like another class taken for fun—the stellar 24.900 - Introduction to Linguistics—i reveled in doing the assignments and looked forward to the exams as a way to learn the material in more detail. Studying the intricacies of Indian rock-cut architecture never got old—as i delved deeper into the history and their motivations, it both helped connect it to wider architectural trends of the age and gave me a greater appreciation for the culture. For example, read about Kailashnath Temple (part of Ellora caves) and try not to have an immediate desire to go visit the place.

one of my favorite buildings: Kailashnath Temple

I've been a staunch advocate of forcing all college students to spend at least a couple months abroad (that'll be a post at some point) for the same reason that i loved this class: it is hard to harbor biases and prejudices against another culture once you know a bit about it. Over the course of living in Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, and Singapore during my time at MIT, i can confidently say that it helped widen my world view and this class was no different.

In the spirit of sharing my enthusiasm for the course, i've included some of the papers i wrote. Plus, they also allowed me the opportunity to cite a 19th century publication in castellano (there were older articles, but decided not to be too liberal with the citation guidelines). The first looks at the exquisite Trinity Church in Copley Square, which i visited several times for Mass (Eucharist) to observe how the structure of the building informed its use. Next i analyzed the Temple of Karnak to investigate the interplay between the construction of a building and the rituals that accompany it. Lastly, i explored the various cultures that thrived in the Americas—not only the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs, but also Algonquin, Tehuelche, and Cahokia.

If there was ever a class i recommend an MIT undergrad take, regardless of major, it would be 4.605. Enjoy!

bahanonu [at]

other entires to explore:

from the archives: declaration of independence, internet edition
11 july 2013 | america

A revised Declaration of Independence I did awhile ago (i.e. high school) for a writing class. It is slightly a mockery of the style of wri[...]ting sometimes used back then, e.g. finding unnecessarily complicated ways of saying a simple concept; long, ponderous sentences; and an abuse of the Capital.

guild wars 2 chef excel guide
08 september 2012 | guild wars 2

The chef's ingredients are scattered throughout the Guild Wars 2 map, but the profession is a cheap way to get 10 levels quickly. Because I[...] am OCD and would rather not read text when I can browse a spreadsheet, compiled information from a couple of sources that is more easily searchable.

quantized art
28 may 2012 | essay

Quantized art. The idea came about while reading how the music industry assembles top-liners, producers, artists, performers, etc. to [...]create top 40 hits. For example, there has been a recent trend in pop music to use 'drops', when the song builds to a cresendo and then a crazy, catchy bass line is released that causes everyone to dance. This has been perfected to the point where even an okay song can become popular bcause the producers know when to build, at what moment to intersperse catchy, meaningless lyrics and how to end the song on a high. I like the idea that art (as in paintings, drawings, etc.) can be dissected and quantified.

My first pass at developing an algorithm to break art down to its details and then use this knowledge to generate art that people would consider 'great'. We'll see how this evolves.

social chair spring 2012
27 december 2011 | psk

My terms as social chair during Fall 2011 went quite well, but there were several things I was unsatisfied with. This presentation outlines[...] several different areas I would like to see improved.

©2006-2018 | biafra ahanonu | updated 31 january 2018
biafra ahanonu