Teaching History by Searching for Emics and Etics

History is thus illuminated as being a rich repository of knowledge of direct relevance to our contemporary preoccupations.

Besim S. Hakim, FAICP, AIA
Albuquerque, NM
January, 1991
Reprinted from Design Studies, vol.12, no.1, January 1991, pp. 19-29.
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This article describes a course in history and theory which the author has developed and taught while teaching architecture in Saudi Arabia. Although its conception and pedagogy was in response to local conditions, it has nevertheless the potential of worldwide applicability. The American Institute of Architects (AlA) selected this course to award it the 1990 Education Honors Award for ‘its significant achievement in the formulation, implementation and outcome of architectural instruction and for its potential to be transferred to other instructional settings in architecture.’

Jury Comments
“I am impressed by the rigor of the course. It has a very clear objective and methodology with a specific set of experiences for the learner. It is a skillful delivery of knowledge, is novel and innovative.”“The question of cultures is central today. This submittal is one of the very best in this regard. It makes sense and the material is thoroughly addressed.”“It also has an excellent construction—looks at constant factors as well as culturally determined variables. Both constancy and variability have excellent applicability to our present situation. Emphasis on principles reinforces memory. Tremendous applicability of construct.”“There are fascinating things about learning what the diferences and the constants are in cultures . . . this course addresses a construct which is useful across cultures . . . this idea could be used in any part of the world.”

Abstract
This history/theory course—the first in a sequence of four courses for undergraduate architecture students— is formulated on the basis of searching for recurrent principles in history and the manner in which those principles manifest themselves in the built form of specific civilizations and/or cultures. This search process is undertaken by testing the validity of selected hypotheses and concepts about architecture and the built environment through the historical examples covered by the course. The particular traits of a specific culture (the Emics) and the generalizations that can be discerned across a number of cultures (the Etics) are especially sought for. The knowledge gained by this method can be used for the formulation of theory, which in turn can be the basis for sound criticism. History is thus illuminated as being a rich repository of knowledge of direct relevance to our contemporary preoccupations. The following quote by Alan Colquhoun clarifies and supports this fact:

  • “It is only on such a hermeneutics of tradition that architectural discourse and criticism can be based. Criticism is deprived of all value if it attempts to operate either within the closed world of ‘absolute’ formal values or within the unlimited world of eclectic ‘play’. If criticism is to carry out its function of making judgments, it must have at its disposal norms which belong to the architectural tradition—a ground against which to measure and evaluate the contingencies of the present”. From the Introduction, p.19, of Alan Colquhoun’s book: Essays in Architectural Criticism, MIT Press, 1981.

Click Here to open the printable pdf of the Article (855kb), reprinted from Design Studies, vol.12, no.1, January 1991, pp. 19-29.

For more on Architectural Education, Click Here for an exchange of views between Oscar Machado and Lucien Steil from the PRO-URB listserv.

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