MAS Context Fall Talks 2019
Joshua G. Stein and Paulette Singley


Video shot by Ben Kolak of Scrappers Film Group.


Architect Joshua G. Stein and architectural historian Paulette Singley lectured on Thursday, October 17, as part of MAS Context’s 2019 Fall Talks series. The lecture took place at the Society of Architectural Historians (1365 North Astor Street, Chicago, Illinois 60610).


Trajan’s Hollow / How to Read Architecture

Joshua G. Stein and Paulette Singley debated the role of historical inquiry within contemporary design practice as discussed in their recent books: Trajan’s Hollow and How to Read Architecture: An Introduction to Interpreting the Built Environment respectively. Architect Sam Jacob was the respondent.

Trajan’s Column, which is one of the great monuments of Roman antiquity, has been obsessively documented over the centuries by historians and archaeologists, and admired by tourists and Romans alike. Trajan’s Hollow exposes, and renders material, qualities of the Column neglected amidst all this attention. Sparked by Piranesi’s renowned engravings of the Column and the perennial tension between classical geometry and picturesque ruin, Stein’s research traces―and ultimately reconstructs as architecture―the missing monument, one overlooked by these competing ideals. This book reconstitutes the chiseled, eroding interior of the Column and reclaims its progeny―casts and copies of the original produced over two thousand years. Charting the Column’s extraction and its reproduction networks from the marble quarries of Carrara to the plaster diaspora of Paris, Trajan’s Hollow proposes a new ethos of scanning and replication, saturating digital technologies with an expansive material awareness to amplify the projective capacity of historical inquiry.

How to Read Architecture is based on the fundamental premise that reading and interpreting architecture is something we already do, and that close observation matters. This book enhances this skill so that given an unfamiliar building, you will have the tools to understand it and to be inspired by it. Author Paulette Singley encourages you to misread, closely read, conventionally read, and unconventionally read architecture to stimulate your creative process.

This book explores three essential ways to help you understand architecture: reading a building from the outside-in, from the inside-out, and from the position of out-and-out, or formal, architecture. This book erodes boundaries between the frequently compartmentalized fields of interior design, landscape design, and building design with chapters exploring concepts of terroir, scenography, criticality, atmosphere, tectonics, inhabitation, type, form, and enclosure. Using examples and case studies that span a wide range of historical and global precedents, Singley addresses the complex interaction among the ways a building engages its context, addresses its performative exigencies, and operates as an autonomous aesthetic object.


Copies of Trajan’s Hollow and the How to Read Architecture were available for purchase thanks to the Graham Foundation bookstore.


This lecture was a partner program of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.



MAS Context is partially supported by private donations. For information about how to support MAS Context, please visit:


Colonna Trajana by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1748 – 1751. Public domain.


Joshua G. Stein is the founder Radical Craft and the co-director of the Data Clay Network, a forum for the exploration of digital techniques applied to ceramic materials. Radical Craft is a Los Angeles-based studio that advances an experimental design practice saturated in history, archaeology and craft. This inquiry inflects the production of urban spaces and artifacts by evolving newly grounded approaches to the challenges posed by virtuality, velocity, and globalization. Stein has received numerous grants, awards, and fellowships, including multiple grants from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the AIA Upjohn research award, and the 2010-11 Rome Prize Fellowship in Architecture. He is a former member of the LA Forum Board of Directors and has taught at the California College of the Arts, Cornell University, SCI-Arc, and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. He is currently Professor of Architecture at Woodbury University. |

Paulette Singley is a widely read architectural historian and theorist whose work expands the disciplinary limits of architecture across diverse subject matter such as food, film, and fashion. She is a Professor of Architecture at Woodbury University in Los Angeles, California. She received a Ph.D. from Princeton University, an M.A. from Cornell University, and a B.Arch. from the University of Southern California. She co-edited Eating Architecture, the first book to explore the intersections of architecture and the culinary arts. She also co-edited Architecture: In Fashion and has published chapters in several anthologies as well as essays in architecture journals such as Log and Assemblage.
Paulette Singley | Woodbury University

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