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James Steele, Ph.D.

Professor, ACSA Distinguished Professor

BA, English, Lafayette College; B.Arch and M.Arch, University of Pennsylvania; Ph.D., USC School of Policy Planning, & Development


Since 1991, Prof. Steele has taught history and theory of architecture as well as design studios at the School of Architecture. He has been a guest critic and speaker at numerous universities in the United States and internationally. He organized the first summer semester abroad program for architecture students in Malaysia in 1998 and administered the Program up through its fifteenth and final session in 2014. He then founded and was the Director of a new Undergraduate Program in Brazil, based in Sao Paulo which ran from 2015-2017. He has also served on the USC President's Committee on International Affairs and the USC Faculty Senate. Prof. Steele is the author of more than 50 books and monographs, including Ecological Architecture: Critical History which examines ecological architecture over the past century, and The Architecture of Rasem Badran; Narratives on People and Place, a monograph on the award winning Jordanian architect. Badran designs environments that stand in stark contrast to self-conscious, anonymous architecture devoid of any reference to people, place, or culture. He also wrote the Encyclopedia of Homes through World History which was published in June 2008. In it, his premise is that the house, throughout history, is the three-dimensional record of the cultures that built it and environmental factors that shaped it. He is also the editor of the recently published Future Perfect: A History of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California by the USC Guild Press. His latest book is Contemporary Japanese Architecture: Tracing the Next Generation, published by Routledge & Kegan Paul. He is a member of the UNESCO Scientific Committee: "Safeguarding Project of Hassan Fathy's New Gourna Village" tasked with saving this Egyptian master’s most significant work. He was also named by the Birchwood Conservancy as the lead architect for the World Heritage Animal Genetic Repository Institute (WHARG) in Sanger, CA to serve as a prototypical, sustainable, non- governmental, multinational animal genetic holding center to protect endangered species and the biodiversity of the planet. Prof. Steele’s recent presentations have been at the 4th Annual Cultural Heritage Forum in Abha, Saudi Arabia and another in Qaseem, Saudi Arabia. He presented and acted as a Session Chair at the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE) Conference "Whose Tradition" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He also presented a paper at The Architectural Forum of Southwest China in Chengdu. He acted as Design Consultant with architectural firm Perkins and Will on a new palace for King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2015, Prof. Steele was named a Distinguished Professor by the Association of Collegiate School of Architecture. The ACSA recognizes creative achievement in the advancement of architectural education through teaching, design, scholarship, research and service. He also received a Fulbright Scholar’s Grant in 2016 for a study of Minangkabau architecture in Sumatra, and will present Muara Laboh, which is one village he studied there with his collaborator, Prof. Ezrin Arbi at the University of Malaysia, at a UNESCO conference in Guizhou, China in September 2017.


 
Currently Teaching
  • 214ag
    World History of Architecture
    World History of Architecture
    Architecture is the product of social, cultural, religious, and political forces. Great cultures and civilizations have existed all over the world, producing not only great monuments but robust vernacular architectural traditions, closely tied to the environment and their local context, which resonate even today. This course examines the history of architecture from the Prehistoric period through the 16th century from a global perspective. Course Description: Arch 214a presents an overview of the history of architecture from the Prehistoric period through the 16th century from a global perspective. It is based on a five-part structure to ensure complete coverage. In alphabetical order, this is: (1) Africa (2) Asia (3) Europe (4) The Americas (5) West Asia. For clarity, this part of the survey will be divided into chronologically coherent groupings, related to discernable similarities, as well as three distinct sections, entitled I: The Search for Meaning in the Cosmos, II: The Rise and Fall of Empires, and III: The Age of Faiths.
     
  • 214bg
    World History of Architecture
    World History of Architecture
    Architecture is the product of social, cultural, religious, and political forces. Great cultures and civilizations have existed all over the world, producing not only great monuments but robust vernacular architectural traditions, closely tied to the environment and their local context, which resonate even today. This course examines the history of architecture from the Prehistoric period through the 16th century from a global perspective. Course Description: Arch 214a presents an overview of the history of architecture from the Prehistoric period through the 16th century from a global perspective. It is based on a five-part structure to ensure complete coverage. In alphabetical order, this is: (1) Africa (2) Asia (3) Europe (4) The Americas (5) West Asia. For clarity, this part of the survey will be divided into chronologically coherent groupings, related to discernable similarities, as well as three distinct sections, entitled I: The Search for Meaning in the Cosmos, II: The Rise and Fall of Empires, and III: The Age of Faiths.
     
  • 454
    Contemporary Asian Architecture
    Contemporary Asian Architecture
    Exploration of various “Asian” architectures, comparisons of areas, identifying current trends and impact of Asia on Southern California and Los Angeles.
     
  • 606
    Advanced Architectural Theory
    Advanced Architectural Theory
    Within contemporary architectural design a significant shift in emphasis can be detected – a move away from an architecture based primarily on visual concerns towards an architecture justified by its performance. Structural, constructional, economic, environmental and other parameters – concerns that were once relegated to a secondary level – have now become primary, and are being embraced as positive inputs into the design process from the outset. Architecture – it would seem – is now preoccupied less with style and appearance, and increasingly with material processes and performance. It is as though a new architectural design sensibility has emerged. But how exactly might we theorize this new sensibility? The course tracks this new development from its origins in materialist philosophies to its implications within the field of design. It draws upon biomimetics and other aspects of scientific thinking, such as theories of emergence and swarm intelligence, that are informing recent developments in contemporary design thinking. It goes on to consider the role of computation in this development, from new scripting techniques to fabrication technologies, from the scale of individual components to entire cities, and from terrestrial concerns to new robotic technologies being envisaged by NASA for application on the Moon. The aim of the class is to provide a theoretical manifesto for a new way of approaching design that is sweeping through architecture and urbanism.
     
  • 608
    Special Topics in Urban Theory Los Angeles
    Special Topics in Urban Theory Los Angeles
    Explore the city of Los Angeles through this advanced seminar in urban theory with an emphasis on contemporary architecture theory. Students will deepen their understanding of this extraordinary city’s historical transformations and recent development. Examine the city’s complex relationship with its environment as well as power and resource distribution. How, for example, does architecture imagine the city, its management, appearance, its cleanliness and contaminations? More broadly, this course aims to give the student new tools to analyze the contemporary material conditions of cities; it is curious about the history and theory of ecology, atmosphere, and environment.
     
 
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