Earlier this year, University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design assistant professor Deepa Ramaswamy organized and led a workshop to critically evaluate the teaching of architectural history survey courses. The Beyond the Survey workshop resulted as part of a grant Ramaswamy received from the Global Architectural History Teaching Collective (GAHTC) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Over one week, ten architectural historians asked: If the rigid two-semester space of the survey were reimagined, what could it become? What changes could be made to the form and structure of the survey course to kindle cultural and historical literacy, critical thinking, and interdisciplinary research methods? How can we better root architectural and urban histories in ecological, political, social, material, and cultural histories?
Ramaswamy began teaching at the Hines College in the fall of 2021. She was inspired to pursue the grant while designing her survey syllabus for over 220 students from diverse backgrounds, disciplines, and even colleges within the University. She realized that working in isolation may not be the best way forward.
After several discussions with the College’s History, Theory, and Criticism (HTC) coordinator Michael Kubo, Ramaswamy submitted a grant proposal to the Global Architectural History Teaching Collective and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She received the grant in 2021.
Ramaswamy designed the workshop to bring together historians, architects, and educators currently teaching the architectural survey course and possibly having many of the same questions she had.
"Historians and architects have spent some time talking about the content of the survey course," said Ramaswamy. "However, we have not spoken much about the rigid form and structure prevalent in most universities across the United States. The survey course has historically aspired to cover so much material in just two semesters. We may need to pause and question the futures and potentialities of this model."
The workshop was framed by several invited talks from architectural historians who had successfully changed their courses over time. The discussions covered methodological dilemmas, including questions of chronology and historical progression and the practical issues of NAAB criteria, rubrics, assignments, and exams. At the end of the workshop, along with the videos of the lectures and discussions, the workshop participants also produced a shared set of deliverables, including reading lists, assignments, course outcomes, and syllabi.
The workshop provided a platform for insights into other contexts, disciplines, and universities.
"As a group, we scrutinized the complexities inherent in teaching the architectural survey course," shared Ramaswamy. "By the end of the workshop, we all had adapted some of these ideas into our courses."
The insights gained will undoubtedly advance the HTC program at the Hines College. Ramaswamy is incredibly grateful to the GAHTC and the community of architects, historians, and educators who supported the workshop.
Beyond the Survey included a total of ten architectural historians. The four invited speakers included Brian Goldstein (Swarthmore College), Andrew Herscher (University of Michigan), Mrinalini Rajagopalan (University of Pittsburgh), and Sara Stevens (University of British Columbia). Other participants included Bryan Norwood (University of Texas at Austin), María González Pendás (Cornell University), Aaron Cayer (University of New Mexico), Nikki Moore (Wake Forest University), Tania Gutiérrez-Monroy (University of Houston), and Deepa Ramaswamy (University of Houston).
Learn more about Beyond the Survey and view the recordings and content produced here.