Learning to Look at Western Architecture (Online)


This course is designed to enable you to 'read' the architecture of the Western world in a critically informed way. You will learn to recognise and differentiate between the major architectural styles of the western tradition and will thus gain a greater understanding of the way that buildings are built, and why they look the way they do.

Architecture is the quintessential 'public' art form. The work of architects surrounds us all, every day of our lives, shaping and conditioning our experience of the world in ways which are as subtle as they are inescapable. Yet the practice of architects does not take place - and has never taken place - in a vacuum: architects continually engage with the architectural styles and practices of the past, shaping the architectural forms of the present from the vast reservoir of forms and styles bequeathed by the western architectural tradition.

This course aims to give students an introduction and overview of that architectural tradition  enabling students to 'read' the architecture of the contemporary built environment in a critically informed way.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

The areas you will cover in this course are:

1. Introduction and a starting point: Classical Architecture - Principles and Foundations

  • Getting started: the classical tradition
  • The classical orders
  • The origins of the orders
  • Roman developments
  • The legacy of classicism
  • Classicism and meaning
  • After classicism: early Christian and Romanesque

2. Gothic Architecture: Styles and Interpretations

  • The elements of Gothic architecture
  • Sutton on Gothic architecture
  • The 'phases' of English Gothic
  • A Gothic 'case study': York Minster

3. Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque

  • The early Italian Renaissance
  • The prestige of antiquity
  • Alberti
  • The High Renaissance: Palladio
  • Michelangelo: the transition to mannerism
  • The 'distortions' of mannerism
  • Mannerism to Baroque
  • Sutton on the Baroque
  • Rococo - architecture or ornament?

4. Case Study (1): The English Baroque

  • The English Baroque
  • Wren and the Baroque
  • Hawksmoor
  • Vanbrugh
  • Gibbs
  • The 'English Baroque' - a retrospective

5. The Classical Revival: an overview of the rise of neo-Classicism

  • Sutton on neo-classicism
  • Neo-classical theory
  • Neo-classicism in action: Robert Adam
  • 'Official' neo-classicism

6. Case Study (2): English neo-Classicism

  • Classicism anticipated: the work of Inigo Jones
  • Jones's early career
  • The Banqueting House
  • Jones and Palladio
  • Classicism triumphant: the English Palladians
  • The 'Palladian moment'
  • Palladianism in action
  • Palladianism and ornament

7. Nineteenth Century Eclecticism

  • Sutton on architectural eclecticism
  • The Gothic revival
  • The Gothic revival in action: Barry and Pugin
  • Styles and values: the search for meaning in architecture

8. Case Study (3): the Victorian City

  • The architecture of the industrial city
  • Victorian eclecticism
  • Architecture and society: the experience of the Victorian city
  • Paxton and the advent of iron
  • Ruskin, architecture, beauty and morality
  • Ruskin and truth to materials
  • The Oxford University Museum: a Ruskinian building
  • Ebenezer Howard and the garden city movement

9. The Modern Movement

  • Sutton on modernism
  • Iron as a building material
  • Modernism and historicism
  • 'The doctrine of modernism'
  • Architecture versus 'ornament'

10. Today and Tomorrow: The Contemporary Built Environment

  • Sutton on style
  • Norman Foster: 'machines for living'
  • Richard Rogers: the aesthetics of technology
  • Daniel Libeskind: 'beyond the wall'

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Digital Certification

Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr David Morgan

David Morgan has taught art and architectural history for the Department since 2004. He has also taught courses for Birkbeck College, University of London, and for the WEA. His recent publications have centred upon the history of British visual satire.

Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to the broad stylistic history of western architecture by:

  • guiding them through selected contemporary and historical readings.
  • helping them to recognise the salient features of the western architectural tradition, as manifested within the contemporary built environment.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to understand:

  • the overall chronological and stylistic progressions within the western architectural tradition;
  • the historical origins of the styles and forms of contemporary architecture;
  • that the architecture of any period results from a complex dialogue between the needs of the present and the styles and forms of the past.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/english-language-requirements


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.