4.605 | Spring 2012 | Undergraduate

Introduction to the History and Theory of Architecture


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations (discussion sections): 1 session / week, 1 hour / session

Course Overview

This subject provides an outline of the history of architecture and urbanism, from the first societies to the present. Students analyze buildings and the built environment as the products of culture and in relation to the special problems of architectural design and the history of architecture, with an urbanist perspective that stresses the cultural and political context from which building arises. The course develops critical tools for the analysis and appreciation of architecture, for its role in the intellectual environment in which we conduct our lives. Instruction and practice in oral and written communication are provided.

This particular instance of the course is titled A Global History of Architecture. It considers both western and eastern traditions, and spans from the prehistoric to the sixteenth century.


There are no prerequisites for this course.


Ching, Francis, Mark Jarzombek, and Vikram Prakash. A Global History of Architecture. 2nd ed. John Wiley & Sons, 2010. ISBN: 9780470402573.

Google Earth

Google Earth is an important resource for this course, and will be used during lectures. The textbook comes with many Google Earth .kmz files, and some assignments will also require its use.

Requirements and Policies

Requirements include attendance at lectures and sections, a midterm exam, a final exam, and 3 papers.

Readings are to be completed before lecture. A short quiz is given at the start of most lecture sessions on the prior lecture and associated reading. These quizzes are not officially graded, but the answers are reviewed in class as part of the discussion.

The teaching assistants for your section and the instructor are available to discuss the material of the class. You can rewrite your papers to improve your grade, in accordance with a schedule that you must work out with the TA. Unexcused lateness in handing in assignments will affect your grade. If you cannot make a class, you should email your TA in advance so as to not damage your attendance record. More than 3 unexplained absences will result in an automatic letter grade reduction.


Two exams 50%
Three papers 40%
Section participation 10%


Session Key


R=Recitation (discussion section)

L1 First societies  
L2 The Gravettians and the hunting tradition of the north Paper 1 assigned
L3 The Holocene and the agro-pastoral emergence  
R1 Discussion: first societies  
L4 Grains, animals and the village world  
L5 Cities, gods and empires  
R2 Discussion: The MIT Chapel  
L6 Pits and granaries: the sacred section  
L7 1500 BCE: After the Cataclysm: Knossos and Karnak  
R3 Discussion: buildings and representations in time  
L8 800 BCE: Iron and the New World Order: Greeks, Etruscans, Assyrians

Paper 1 due

Paper 2 assigned

L9 500 BCE: Persia and Central Asia  
R4 Discussion: the pyramids  
L10 Fire, water and chariots  
L11 Buddhism: Out of India  
R5 Discussion: architecture history textbooks  
L12 Chang’an  
L13 Rome  
R6 Discussion: Timgad and Roman urbanism


Rome (continued)

Midterm review

  Midterm exam  
L15 The Americas  
L16 Early Christian transitions

Paper 2 due

Paper 3 assigned

R7 Discussion: ritual plans  
L17 Early Islam: 800 CE  
L18 From Armenia to Borobudur  
L19 Early Hindu architecture  
R8 Discussion: the profession of the architect in classical antiquity  
L20 Southeast Asia and Angkor Wat  
L21 Gothic architecture: Cistercians & cathedrals  
R9 Discussion: the plan of St. Gall  
L22 Late medieval Europe: Renaissance in perspective  

History and time

UNESCO & cultural nationalism

Paper 3 due
L24 Colonial worlds  
L25 Review session  
  Final Exam  

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2012
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments