Beginning Scribes: Architecture Through Genre Writing
Wong, Peter L.
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The Second Year undergraduate writing seminar at UNC Charlotte has enjoyed a 20-year history in the College of Architecture. Originally administered as a pair of courses in support of the sophomore design curricula, the present course offers new strategies for understanding the shared relationship between design and ideas by focusing on specific writing genres important to architecture. The course fulfills the University's requirement for an intensive undergraduate writing experience. It also serves to foster a better balance between design activities and literary modes of expressing ideas about architecture. The result was a totally reconceived course, focused on facilitating student learning through the use of various writing forms. Six genres are identified as common to architectural writing - i.e., typical ways in which architects and critics express ideas about buildings - these include: observation, analysis, reflection, criticism, manifestoes, and narrative over the course of the semester. These six genres are introduced sequentially beginning with the most objective writing position, and progressing to the most biased. Emphasis is given to the complementary nature of the genres as one moves from observation and analysis toward reflection and criticism, with manifesto and narrative as expressing the mostly strongly held and personal beliefs of the author. Writing examples for the class include readings from Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nicholson Baker (observation), Peter Zumthor (reflection writing), and Adolf Loos and Rem Koolhaas (manifestoes). After reading selected examples of each genre, students are asked to complete three-part writing assignments. At the end of the course, students participate in a small symposium that allows them to share their writing with others in the class. This essay outlines the pedagogical approach taken. It also opens a parallel discussion regarding the shared relationship between written types, architectural types and contemporary ideas.