Tracing the Avant-Texte of Architectural Theory: The Paul Felix Case


  • Elke Couchez University of Queensland
  • Rajesh Heynickx KU Leuven
  • Hilde Heynen KU Leuven


Architectural Theory, Minor Historiography, Textual Exegesis, Architectural Education, KU Leuven, Paul Felix


This article attempts to dissect the production and use of architectural theory in its formative stage. Instead of reproducing the fixed canons of architectural theory, based upon the publications of celebrated authors, it tries to unravel the coming-into-being of architectural theory as a field. Specifically, this article will concentrate on the theoretical ideas of Paul Felix (1919–1982): a Catholic, Belgian modernist architect, and a professor of architectural theory at the Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven from 1952 to 1978. Felix will be studied not through his pioneering modernist architectural designs or through his limited published work, but by looking at his day-to-day work — archiving, reading, and teaching — which remains a relatively untapped and yet relevant context in intellectual history. By developing a textual exegesis of a well-thumbed key text of Felix’ course, the 1968 text La fonction et le signe by the Italian thinker Umberto Eco (1932–2016), this article will redirect the predominant focus on canonical texts of architectural theory to the work of those actors who were foremost not in producing but consuming theory.

Author Biographies

Elke Couchez, University of Queensland

Elke Couchez studied Fine Arts (Sint-Lucas Academy, Ghent) and Art History (KU Leuven). In June 2018, she defended her PhD “Gestures make Arguments. Performing Architectural Theory in the Studio and the Classroom 196x-199x” at the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture. She is particularly interested in how theoretical knowledge was formed and transmitted through texts and objects in architectural education. Her articles have been published in Image&Narrative and Paedagogica Historica. From October 2018, she will be part of the ATCH Research Centre at the University of Queensland, where she will work as a post-doctoral fellow on the project “Is Architecture Art?”.

Rajesh Heynickx, KU Leuven

Rajesh Heynickx is a Full Professor in architectural theory and intellectual history at the Faculty of Architecture, KU Leuven (Belgium). He studied history and architectural sciences at the University of Leuven, the University of Illinois (Urbana Campaign, US) and the Institute for European History at Mainz. With Leuven University Press he edited the following studies: in 2012 (together with Tom Avermaete) Making a New World. Architecture and Communities in Interwar Europe and in 2010 The Maritain Factor. Taking religion into Interwar Modernism. Recently, he edited, together with Stéphane Symons So What's New About Scholasticism? How Neo-thomism Shaped the Twentieth Century (De Gruyter, 2018) he published in Modern Intellectual HistoryModernist CulturesEnvironment and History. He co-edited special issues of Interiors: Design/Architecture/CultureThe European Legacy and the Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire. Current research topics are: 20th century architectural theory and art philosophy; the interaction between religion and architectural modernism ; architectural pedagogy and knowledge transfer.

Hilde Heynen, KU Leuven

Hilde Heynen is Full Professor of Architectural Theory at the University of Leuven. Her research focuses on issues of modernity, modernism and gender in architecture. She is the author of Architecture and Modernity. A Critique (MIT Press, 1999) and the co-editor of Back from Utopia. The Challenge of the Modern Movement (with Hubert-Jan Henket, 010, 2001), Negotiating Domesticity. Spatial Productions of Gender in Modern Architecture (with Gülsüm Baydar, Routledge, 2005) and The SAGE Handbook Architectural Theory (with Greig Crysler and Stephen Cairns, Sage, 2012). She regularly publishes in journals such as The Journal of Architecture and Home Cultures.