Taubman College

Course List

Term Winter 2018
Class ARCH 509
Description The environmental and humanitarian crises produced by the
unfettered advancement of late capitalism are nothing to laugh about.
In response to these serious problems, architects often produce work
that is humorless and self-important, taking on the disposition of the
very bureaucrats who manage this slow catastrophe. In this situation,
humor, often seen as an abdication of agency or responsibilities, could be
architecture�s only remaining critical tool. Humor is a sophisticated way to
lighten the blow of a more serious critique or make plain the difficult realities
of contemporary existence. But a joke only works if people get it. In that
way, humor and architecture share something important as forms of cultural
production: both must communicate with an audience that is often diverse
and potentially anonymous.
The course will begin by introducing three principle theories of humor:
superiority, relief, and incongruity. While historically important, superiority
and relief theory are incompatible with contemporary design because each
require an (often politically fraught) object of derision, rely too heavily on
language or apply outmoded notions of human physiology and psychology.
Incongruity theory, however, offers untapped possibilities for design.
Whether through absurd historical references, ready-mades, or �incorrect�
uses of materials, irony (creating distance between what something actually
is and what it says it is) has a long history of making architects, though not
always the public, laugh. The source of this laughter, philosophers and
psychologists argue, is the incongruity between what is expected and what
is perceived. Irony, however, is only one way the incongruous produces
laughter. Other techniques, strongly rooted in the physical world, promise to
free architecture from the increasing self-referentiality of irony.
Incongruity alone is not sufficient for humor. This course will explore what
extra qualities distinguish �funny� from other aesthetic categories: grotesque,
macabre, horrible, bizarre, wondrous, fantastic, etc. In this effort, students
will study humor as a condition found in all modes of cultural production,
including film, television and music. Humor will be uncovered in less
expected places, too, like politics, software/apps, and robots, with a special
focus on art, design and architecture.
While students will rigorously study humor, the principle effort will be
making things. To that end, students will fabricate full scale objects that
test techniques derived from theories and precedents. The first project
will explore rejected theories of humor: superiority and relief. Students
will create a deformed thing and destroy it. The second project will ask
students to make strange things that, by their very presence, will render
their situations absurd. The final project will ask students to combine their
strange things into one big thing. This incoherent arrangement will produce
laughter out of nothing more than the relationships between its parts.
While overall quality, commitment to craft, and originality will factor into the
evaluation of each thing, the principle mode of assessment will be its ability
to elicit laughter.
We will see what bombs and what lands.
Prereq none entered yet
Crosslist none
Required No
Elective Yes
Selective No
Meets Tuesday 9:00am-12:00pm 1360 A&AB
Credits 3
Faculty Thomas Moran
Syllabus not available