Walter Benjamin’s spent much of the later part of his life as a German immigré in Paris. The city not only served as a place of refuge, but was also the material for some of his most important writing on subjects including art, politics, consumer society and the city. The unclassifiable nature of his work is attested to by his influence across academic disciplines, making him one of the most important figures of early modernism. Benjamin’s time in Paris culminated in an unfinished collection of notes and essays that has come to be known as The Arcades Project. Comprised of fragmentary texts from his research at the French National Library, The Arcades Project examines the material evidence of the forces (political, artistic, philosophical, urban, consumer….) that created “the capital of the 19th century”. In its unfinished, fragmentary state, The Arcades Project proposed a new way of reading the city whose form has been as influential as the arguments that ensue.
The course takes The Arcades Project as a model for reading urban experience. Students will look closely at the text (including sources such as Baudelaire, Bergson, Proust, Corbusier and Giedion) and the themes that structure Benjamin’s work (flanerie, boredom, iron construction, the interior, advertising, photography, Baudelaire, etc.) with weekly discussion that examines his work against close readings of the texts that influenced him. Through this intertextual analysis, the course will look at how the modern city comes into being as a social, consumer and physical space.
In parallel to this analytical work, and with the understanding it provides of the strategies employed by Benjamin to read Paris, students will undertake iconographic and textual research on contemporary Hong Kong guided by a precise thematic. This research (of sources gleaned from literature, politics, city planning, advertising, etc.) will lead to the compilation of a folio of fragments and original writing that proposes a reading of contemporary Hong Kong. Together the students’ contributions will make it possible to ask questions about the continuing relevance of Benjamin’s work — and of the 19th century European city — for urban experience in Hong Kong today.
What is a city? Through what processes is our built environment constituted? How do we dwell in our cities and how do different kinds of urban space shape our sense of place and community belonging? This course will explore practices of urbanism across a range of contexts from antiquity to the present day. By doing so it will allow students to develop insights into the social relations and human struggles that have been produced by, and continue to produce, particular types of built forms in different places over time. In the broadest sense, the course will use urbanism as a lens to understand the relationship between urban forms and the complex, multiple processes that constitute cities and their urban milieus.The course content will be organized around sets of case studies, with each focusing on a specific theme that indicates particular continuities and congruencies between cities of different locations and time periods. The discussion throughout the course will engage with questions related to contemporary urbanization and consider how historical knowledge may impart a better understanding of challenges we are facing in the global present.
The main objectives of the course are to enable students to:
Course Website: https://learning.hku.hk/cchu9048/
-Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement (Paris, 1943; republished, Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications, 1988)
This course explores the role of air in the history of modern architecture. Often overlooked as an influential factor within the design of architecture, air has long figured prominently in theorizations of architectural and urban form. As air has impacted architecture, so has architecture given shape to air. Air’s shifting meanings over time, and in relation to a range of different cultural, political, as well as social contexts, make it an important if overlooked force in how we understand architecture’s relationship to space, human activity, as well as the environment.
Over the course of the semester, we will trace these shifts in the definition and understanding of air – as vapor, as matter, as atmosphere – and the impact of those shifts upon architectural design, discourse, as well as practice. Through our study of air, students will be introduced to a range of influential projects, writers, buildings, sites, and texts in the history of modern architecture. These examples effectively constitute a conceptual history of air that students will use as the basis for their own research projects.