Architecture Essay


Illustrated Research Essay. This is a great opportunity for you to work on a subject of your choice and produce an original piece of work. It is possibly a piece of work that will profoundly influence the direction of your career as a designer or academic.


The essay will be of 5,000 words, with illustrations, footnotes and a bibliography. You will need to work on your ideas for your essay (reading, researching etc) over the summer so that you will be able to hand in a synopsis of 1,000 words to your tutor.


Before the new semester you will be alphabetically assigned a place in a tutor group. Each group will have one tutor and about 16 students and will meet regularly on Friday mornings. All the tutors are experienced academics, able to assist you no matter what the subject you decide to research. You will be taking the lead in determining what you study, not your tutor. Although he/she will be critically advising you and offering ideas at every tutorial, you may soon become more expert than he or she in your topic. Your tutor will help you to structure your research and writing plans and suggest sources of information, ideas and so on.


General advice on topics:


  1. Look at some of the previous examples of essays produced in this module located in the ‘course material’ section of our web page.


  1. Choose a very specific topic, even if it seems too constrained at first. Too many students at this stage try to take on vast and nebulous subjects, which will almost always result in a poor essay. Something very focused, eg a study of a particular building, or a particular text or urban development gives you a chance to become expert in something (more expert than your tutors even) and can also  provide a platform from which to talk, with evidence, about the big issues. Analyse anything closely enough and it is likely to become interesting (depending on how you do the analysis). Avoid subjects like ‘Architecture and Light’ or ‘Architecture and Music’, instead research a particular light in a particular building designed by a particular architect, or a particular piece of music written for a particular space. Etc.


  1. Consider subjects that are close to home, which might seem mundane in their everyday use, but become fascinating when considered critically against broader debates about the nature of cities or a historical, environmental or political process, and so on. A local housing project for example. Local subjects often have the advantage of accessible first hand research material; eg interviews, local planning offices and libraries etc.


  1. Try to choose a subject where you’ll be able to access some first hand material, or some material that is not commonly referred to. Eg journals or newspapers that are contemporary to a buildings construction, original sets of drawings, people involved in your subject etc. Also consider subjects related to archives that are in your own or nearby universities.



  1. Look at your own work over the recent past and list those things which have interested you most and use that as a starting point.


  1. If you wish to use a particular theoretical position in your analysis, make sure you have mastered the position thoroughly – this may take time. Don’t just rely on secondary commentaries, but go to the original source; Barthes, Foucault, Benjamin etc. And remember that theories become stronger if subjected to rigorous critical scrutiny. Look for the flaws as well as insights in these works.


  1. Consider subjects with a historical dimension. These often allow you to do some original research using contemporary material of the time. For example there is a lot of scope at the moment for doing research on architecture and movements of the 1950s and 1960s.It is often instructive to flick through the magazines for those decades to discover what was going on, in, eg. Architectural Design and Architectural Review.



As you know, it is very, very important that you give credit to those that have influenced the way that you have written your paper. One of the worst things you can do when writing a paper is to forget to do this. It is fine to quote extensively from texts that you have read, as long as you make it very clear that you are quoting or paraphrasing someone else. If you do not do this then you WILL be accused of plagiarism, and the penalties at this level can be severe. Plagiarism ‘…can be defined as submission for assessment of material (written, visual or oral) originally produced by another person or persons, without correct acknowledgement, in such a way that the work could be assumed to be the student’s own’.[1]


Plagiarism covers both direct copying, and copying or paraphrasing with only minor adjustments. A direct quotation from a text must be indicated by the use of quotation marks and the source of the quote (title, author, page number and date of publication); a paraphrased summary must be indicated by attribution of the author, date and source of the material including page numbers for the section(s) which have been summarised. If you need more information about referencing, then please read the library’s advice on referencing and plagiarism. (Go to the Library Services web page, click on the info skills tab and then click on the referencing your work link).Note that an essay or report cannot consist merely of summaries of other people’s ideas and texts.


Presentation of the Final Essay

It is important that the essay which you produce is clearly written and illustrated, fully referenced, with footnotes and a bibliography of sources used; books, articles, web references etc. It should also be well-designed and well-printed. Make it attractive, an enhancement to your portfolio. We are looking for a coherent, effectively written (and illustrated), well argued text which demonstrates originality of thought and the judicious use of sources. You should aim to be persuasive and interesting, but remember that first you must interest yourselves.


Some miscellaneous reading suggestions:


Marshall Berman (1982) All that is Solid Melts Into Air, Verso.


Borden and Ruedi (2000) The Dissertation; an Architectural Student’s Handbook, Oxford.


Italo Calvino (1972) Invisible Cities, Vintage Classics


Stephen Cairns (2003) Drifting – Architecture and Migrancy, Routledge


Ben Campkin (2013) Re-making London: Decline and Regeneration in Urban Culture, I.B.Tauris


Colomina and Buckley (2010) Clip, Stamp, Fold, the Radical Architecture of Little magazines 196X-197X, ACTAR


Crysler and Cairns (eds.) (2013) The SAGE Handbook of Architectural Theory, SAGE


Catherine De Zegher (2001) The Activist Drawing, MIT


Umberto Eco (1977 & 2015) How to Write a Thesis, MIT


Robin Evans (2000) The Projective Cast, MIT


Adrian Forty (2012) Concrete and Culture, Reaktion


Kenneth Frampton (2001) Studies in Tectonic Culture, MIT


David Gissen (2009) Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments


Ariane Lourie Harrison (2013) Architectural Theories of the Environment


David Harvey(2013) Rebel Cities, Verso


K.Michael Hays (2000) Architecture Theory since 1968, Columbia


Jane Jacobs (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books


Lefaivre and Tzonis (2012) Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalisation, Routledge


Larice + MacDonald (2007) The Urban Design Reader, Routledge


Rem Koolhaas (1978) Delirious New York, Monacelli


Alberto Magnaghi (2005) The Urban Village, Zed Books


Doreen Massey (2005) For Space, SAGE


Reinhold Martin (2005) The Organizational Complex, Media and Corporate Space, MIT


Paul Oliver (1998) Encyclopaedia of vernacular architecture of the world, Phaodon


Barbara Penner (2014) Bathroom, Reaktion


Jane Rendell (2010) Site Writing, I.B. Tauris


Charles Rice (2006) The Emergence of the Interior, Routledge.


Krista Sykes (ed.) Constructing a New Agenda: Architectural Theory 1993-2009


Sharon Zukin (2011) Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, OUP

[1] Quoted from University of Westminster regulations:

Last Updated on March 26, 2020

Don`t copy text!