Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Fresco in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence; an analogy to theories as self-referential universes where evidence is ideally ordered.

Studio brief

Things can lead to theories. They can point to a way of seeing art, architecture, or objects, that is more significant than the thing itself. In the twentieth century, the notion that art and architecture speak for themselves was overtaken by the idea that theory did the talking. Today, theory is often regarded as an autonomous discipline or even as a form of practice: artists, architects, designers, make things with theory in mind. They are theory-conscious.

We will look at "imperfect theories" – theories which have materialised, thus losing their theoretical purity or absoluteness, or examples of artefacts in which theory is latent, not explicit.

You can look, critically, into any work that can be seen as theory or that presents an interesting relationship with theory; eg conceptual works, hybrids, replicas, artefacts that allude to Utopias, function-less architecture, manifestos, etc, as well as more conventional works and the theoretical ideals they represent.

Summer preparation

Over the summer you can:

  • enrol in the British Library
  • have a first look at the readings, films and websites mentioned below
  • visit some exhibitions for inspiration
  • identify two to three potential topics; identify the theoretical qualities in each of these topics and write a short paragraph for each, which describes them – how do these ideas transcend the objects/artefacts and point towards something bigger?

Outline of the first seven weeks of study and reading list

  1. Introduction
  2. Ephemeral: We visit this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, by José Selgas and Lucía Cano, we read the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1917) by Wallace Stevens, and we discuss your topics.
  3. Originality: We watch F For Fake (1975) by Orson Welles and look at the Wikipedia entries ‘Originality’ and ‘No original research’. We discuss tradition, originality and referencing in the work of art (and in dissertations!)
  4. Thesis: We read the essay Against Interpretation (1966) by Susan Sontag and the poem/manifesto Architecture Must Blaze (1980) by Coop Himmelb(l)au. We discuss where/how you position yourself with your dissertation.

    Due: advanced outline and bibliography/literature review.

  5. Representation: We visit the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), we discuss changing contexts, the effect of time on artifacts, museum culture and exhibition culture.
  6. Medium: We look at Museum Photographs (1993) by Thomas Struth and read T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (1922). We discuss the medium of your chosen subject of study and how it relates to the medium of dissertation.
  7. Consciousness: We watch Museum Hours (2012) by Jem Cohen, we read On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth (1823) by Thomas De Quincey, and we discuss the myth of Pygmalion.


Tutors Ektoras Arkomanis

Tutor Biography

Ektoras Arkomanis

Senior lecturer, History and Theory of Architecture

Coordinates Critical and Contextual Studies (BA), MA Architectural Histories, Theories and Interpretations. Professional Diploma in Architecture – RIBA2 and Architecture BA.

Dissertation Studios

Studio 1: Another India

Harriet McKay

Studio 1: Another India will examine, reflect upon and critique the historic use of "exotic" motifs in design.

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry is an exploration of race, gender, class and more in music.

Studio 4: What Not to Wear?

Emma Davenport

Studio 4: What Not to Wear? will investigate the roles that dress and fashion play in our workplaces.

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories allows you to critically examine any work that can be seen as theory or presents an interesting relationship with theory.

Studio 6: Curating Contemporary Art: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: Curating Contemporary Art examines the impact of curatorial practice on art.

Studio 7: Fashioning culture: clothing and the shaping of identity

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: Fashioning culture will examine critically the links between fashion, clothing and identity.

Studio 8: Pleasure, Excess and Dirt

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 explores ideas of category, definition, identification and belonging through the examination of a series of objects and behaviours that appear to be in the wrong place instead of the right place.

Studio 9: The Continuing Lives of Objects

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: The Continuing Lives of Objects uses debates about change and preservation explore ideas within architecture.

Studio 10: Critical Theory and Critical Design. Artefacts, Images, Sites, Processes in Graphics and Illustration

Dipti Bhagat with Christopher Emmett

Studio 10 requires deep commitment and completion of critical theory and design for graphic design and illustration.

Studio 12: London Walking

Clare Qualmann

Studio 12: London Walking looks at walking as a mode of creatively appropriating the city, with particular attention to our own city, London.

Studio 14: All in the best possible Taste

Dr John Cross

Studio 14: 'All in the best possible Taste' examines the historical influencers of taste, style and fashion.

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Lewis Jones

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas encourages you to explore how and why we make music, including its origin, relationship to technology and more.

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling

Jon Baldwin

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling will see you produce storygraphs, storyboards and various forms of narrative analysis in the seminars.

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences

Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences will encourage you to study an audience group using qualitative research methods in your investigations.

Studio 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: Material in Motion will explore why an audience will put time, money and thought into acquiring an object.

Studio 20: Image ethics: Form, meaning and context

Dr Nick Haeffner

Studio 20: Image ethics: Form, meaning and context explores the aesthetics of the image and its role within fantasy, desire and social memory.

Studio 21: The Nonsensical Realm III

Joseph Kohlmaier

Studio 21: The Nonsensical Realm is a cross-disciplinary studio. This year it will engage with the idea of metaphor in art, architecture, design and music.

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work explores the value of making and the idea of craft as meaningful work.

Studio 23: A Common Thread

Gina Pierce

Studio 23: A Common Thread examines the relationship between textiles and everyday life, including its design, trade, sustainability and more.

Studio 24: Words in Space

David Price

Studio 24: Words in Space reflects on the role that words play in our visual world, performative spaces and the urban environment.

Cass Studios archive by year