Learning to Look at Western Architecture (Online)

Course details

From £280.00
10 CATS points

Wed 22 Jan 2020 - Fri 03 Apr 2020

Other runs of this course

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. Students 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.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, 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.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following paperback book:

Sutton, I., Western Architecture: A Survey (Thames & Hudson, London, 1999) ISBN 0500203164

Recommended, though not required:

Summerson, J., Architecture in Britain 1530-1830 (Yale University Press, Yale/London, 1953) ISBN 0300058861


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 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 £10 fee.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/faq/cats.php

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.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

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.


Home/EU Fee: £280.00
Non-EU Fee: £300.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Dr David Morgan

David Morgan has taught Art & Architectural History for OUDCE 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

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due at the end of the course.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

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