In contrast to most other established areas of architectural studies, theory of architecture – still? – has no firm disciplinary basis, structure or methodology. We see this as a chance to construct a dynamic course of studies, which, with regard to content and methodology, stands in closest relation to both natural and technical sciences, as well as to the humanities. The identity of theory of architecture as a body of studies is very closely linked to the teaching aims and methods of architectural schools, which is their natural home. This fact stands in no need of an affirmative attitude that sees its task as a subsequent legitimisation of design philosophy but offers the chance to critically reflect on the aims and methods of the various positions of represented architectural thinking.
Apart from a sound and pragmatic teaching of the fundamentals, successful practice also calls for impulses that emerge from a critical reflection of architectural practice and the social and cultural implications of architecture. In this sense theory of architecture as a course of studies sees itself as a questioning discipline and one that formulates problems in keeping with scientific methodology. Its aim is to develop a student’s capacity for self-reflection instead of preventing it. In fact the discipline of theory of architecture sets up its study programme to achieve precisely this. The most important tool in our box is the examination of those concepts that stand so near the centre of architectural thought that they constitute the design and planning practice of the discipline. In order to grasp today’s understanding of architecture, one has to come to grips with the history of such concepts. Indeed, we can start with the term architecture itself and go on to ask: What is space? What is function? What is tectonics? We can only expect this archaeological work to contribute to the understanding of a problem, not to provide its solution.
This description of the agenda of architectural theory might be seen as a retreat into language. Although we really are dealing with verbal processes, the word retreat is not at all apt. Theory of architecture stands for a certain way of undertaking architecture: it influences the organised conceptual understanding of meaning that plays a decisive role in how we see (not only) the built world and how we deal with it.