AR-501 / 3 credits

Teacher: Weaver Thomas

Language: English


This courses presents a history of architecture not so much as a history of projects, buildings, movements or styles, but as a history of lives. In the process, it will argue for the relevance of biography, stories, anecdotes, jokes, truths, half-truths and even wilful fabrications.


Learning Outcomes

  • Develop an appreciation of oral history as an essential tool of the architectural critic, historian or theoretician, and of the history of oral history more generally
  • Develop a new sense and appreciation of the lives, character and work of the architects presented in each lecture
  • Develop their own skills in working with oral history through the transcription and editing of a given case study, and from transforming the spoken word into the written word

Expected student activities

Students are expected to attend each of the twelve course lectures; to read the texts provided for each lecture; to complete the written assignment.


Assessment methods

The course will be assessed by an assignment for which students will first select an architect for an oral history of their own. It is anticipated that the majority of students will choose one of the architectural figures who have recorded oral history interviews through the National Life Stories Architects Lives initiative of the British Library as an ongoing project, established in 1995, in which distinguished British architects speak at length about their life and work ( A full list of figures will be provided, but to date, more than 130 separate lives have been recorded, and all are freely available via Many of these same architects are also collected within another oral history project, namely the Pidgeon Digital archive, established by the architectural editor and critic Monica Pidgeon in 1979. In total more than 220 architects are accessible online (all for a small fee), but these audio files are typically architects lecturing about their ideas, rather than being interviewed about their lives, and so this resource should only be used to complement an existing oral history. Students are also free to access other recordings of other celebrated architectural figures (like those assembled through the Columbia Oral History Archives:, but these interviews should ideally be conducted in English. Even more adventurous students may want to consider recording an oral history themselves, approaching a suitably significant and engaging figure, and then conducting their own recorded interview. The only real criteria in selecting an architect is that they are interesting, and that each student works with a different figure.

After having chosen an architect and a recording (either inherited or created), the student then needs to create a text of a maximum 2,000 words. The first 150 words of this text should consist of a succinct introduction; the remainder should comprise an edited transcript of the architects words, but edited in such a way that these flow together into a coherent, complete, highly readable text (rather than as a series of disconnected anecdotes, lines, reminiscences). Many of the archival recordings are long (sometimes several hours long), but please bear in mind that 2,000 words equates to only around 20 minutes of speaking (but as you will discover, very few people can speak coherently for 20 uninterrupted minutes). Pay special attention to the final lines of your text, which should end like any good presentation, story, or even like a good joke.

The last component of this assignment is that it should be illustrated with an original, line-art sketch of the face of the architect in question, in the spirit of those characterisations drawn by Giorgio Vasari in his famous Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (second edition, 1568). These drawings, along with the 2,000-word texts, will all be flowed into a graphic template and then bound into a singular anthology, printed at the EPFL and made available to each of the students as their own record of the course. In addition to attending all lectures and undertaking all readings, students will be assessed on the basis of the grammatical accuracy of their texts (20%); the clarity of their short introductions (20%); the coherence, flow, readability and charm of their edited transcripts (50%); and the appeal of their graphic portraits (10%).

In the programs

  • Semester: Spring
  • Exam form: During the semester (summer session)
  • Subject examined: Lives of the most excellent architects
  • Lecture: 2 Hour(s) per week x 12 weeks
  • Semester: Spring
  • Exam form: During the semester (summer session)
  • Subject examined: Lives of the most excellent architects
  • Lecture: 2 Hour(s) per week x 12 weeks

Reference week

14-15   AAC137 

Thursday, 14h - 16h: Lecture AAC137