Western Architecture: The Modern Era (Online)


Explore the architectural genesis of the modern world, beginning with the vital structural innovations of the late Victorian era, continuing on to the rise and spread of Modernism in European and American architecture - and concluding in the examination of contemporary architecture and future possibilities.

Listen to Dr David Morgan talking about the course:

Trace the rise and spread of Modernism in European and American architecture. We will focus upon the earliest stirrings of Modernism per se in the Europe of the early 20th century (as in the work of Le Corbusier & the Bauhaus), before following the inter-war flight of the European intelligentsia to Britain and the USA. Our subsequent focus will then be principally upon the collision between the existing architectural culture of the USA (such as the work of architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright) and the incoming flood of European Modernist ideas.

We'll conclude by concentrating upon such relevant contemporary topics as the influence of Le Corbusier, and of US Brutalism, upon British post-WW2 mass density housing; the advent of Post-Modernism - with particular attention being devoted to the works of architects such as Robert Venturi and Daniel Liebeskind and the use of CAD and the contemporary architecture of Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Frank Gehry.

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

Programme details

Unit 1: ‘Structure and Ornament’: Debates in late nineteenth-century architecture

  • What is modern architecture?
  • Innovative Victorian building techniques
  • The search for ‘Purity’ in Victorian architecture
  • Revivalism and Functionalism
  • Architecture, ornament and society

Unit 2: Modern architecture before Modernism: Beaux Arts and Art Nouveau

  • Stylistic eclecticism
  • Structure and ornament
  • Form and mass
  • Structure and ornament revisited
  • Industrial buildings

Unit 3: Early Modernism: Le Corbusier, Purism and the Villa Savoye

  • Le Corbusier’s early career
  • Le Corbusier’s Voyage d’Orient
  • The Villa Savoye
  • Le Corbusier – Classicism and Purism
  • Le Corbusier and urban planning
  • Bauhaus Modernism: an introduction

Unit 4: Pre-Modernist American Architecture (i): The aesthetics of the skyscraper

  • Stylistic eclecticism of the early skyscraper
  • The architecture of Louis Sullivan
  • The Chicago Tribune competition
  • Art Deco architecture
  • The Chrysler Building

Unit 5: Pre-Modernist American Architecture (ii): Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Architectural origins
  • The ‘Prairie House’ style
  • The Kauffmann House
  • Wright’s later works
  • The Guggenheim Museum

Unit 6: Mies van der Rohe in America

  • Architectural origins: The Bauhaus style
  • Mies’ early architecture
  • Mies in America (i)
  • Mies in America (ii)
  • Mies in America (iii)
  • The Seagram Building – a retrospective

Unit 7: Modernism beyond America: Alvar Aalto and Oscar Niemeyer

  • Alvar Aalto
  • Modernism humanised?
  • The ‘International Style’?
  • Modernism in Brazil
  • Niemeyer in conversation
  • The Ronchamp Pilgrimage Chapel

Unit 8: Brutalism and utopia: Modernism and mass housing in post-war Britain

  • The origins of Brutalism
  • Early architectural utopias
  • The Unité d’Habitation
  • Brutalism: American origins
  • British Brutalism
  • British Brutalism in action

Unit 9: Post Modernism: Philip Johnson and Robert Venturi

  • Robert Venturi
  • ‘Learning from Main Street’: the theoretical origins of Post-Modern architecture
  • Venturi in his own words
  • The language of Post-Modern architecture
  • Post-Modernism in action
  • Philip Johnson, Michael Graves and the revival of colour in architecture

Unit 10: Today and tomorrow: CAD and contemporary architecture

  • Rogers and Foster
  • Architectural origins and development
  • Similarities and differences
  • Similarities and differences: St Mary Axe
  • Frank Gehry: toward a ‘Deconstructivist’ architecture?
  • Daniel Liebeskind and Zaha Hadid
  • CAD and the seeds of future architecture

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.


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 history of western architecture during the period from the later 19th century to the present day.

Learning outcomes

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

  • The overall historical trajectory of western European and American architecture during the period from the later 19th century to the present day.
  • The broad outlines of the aesthetic and theoretical debates which have informed that historical trajectory.
  • The principal structural innovations which have underpinned and enabled that historical development.
  • The specific contributions made by each of the principal schools within the Modernist and Post-Modernist architectural traditions.
  • The significance of the most important works by the principal architects mentioned during the course.
  • The essential stylistic and theoretical nature of Modernism, and Post-Modernism, as expressed in architectural terms.

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.