Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Course Description

This seminar investigates the complex nature of 'successful' urban design and attempts to identify and evaluate examples of urban design that are at the leading edge of practice, anticipating the future. The seminar will deal with two parallel questions:

  • What are the key trends that will shape the future form and function of cities?
  • How will these changes affect the role of the urban designer?

The first part of the seminar focuses on the present. We will survey the landscape of contemporary urban design practice with the intent of categorizing major approaches and orientations while also identifying the range of urban design problems that seem to require new architectural programs and planning processes. If urban design may be defined as the process of giving physical design direction to the growth and conservation of cities, suburbs and regions, it must be seen as far more than an aesthetic phenomenon; it is also a social and political endeavor. The task of the urban designer is to build places that are successful across multiple dimensions simultaneously: physical, social, financial, political, and aesthetic. To gauge the complexity of evaluating urban design quality and to culminate the first month of the seminar, participants will compare the selection process and results of two awards programs that deal centrally with urban design: Progressive Architecture Awards for urban design and the Rudy Bruner Award for Excellence in the Urban Environment.

The second part of the semester will consider the future. Six sessions will each focus on a key theme or trend that is affecting the organization and form of cities. During each class session participants in the class, working in small groups, will introduce the trend and present two to three representative case projects that may arguably be considered 'of the future'. At these sessions, a small group of faculty and urban design/planning professionals will respond to the presentations, asking questions and discussing examples and counter examples intended to call into question whether the trend and cases seem indicative of the future or not. Our collective challenge will be to identify the trajectory of cities and city design from both physical and social perspectives. The themes and cases to be discussed represent major venues where change is now challenging conventional notions of urban design:

  1. Inventing new ways of living: Homes and neighborhoods
  2. Distributing work: The workplace
  3. The advent of "mediated" space: Public places and technology
  4. Creating a city of learning: Schools and stories in the city
  5. Reclaiming the industrial landscape: Land and water infrastructure
  6. Rediscovering nature: Natural systems in the city

Class Requirements

This seminar is intended for graduate students enrolled in MIT's Urban Design Certificate program, although others may participate with permission of the instructors.

Work for the class will include reading and research, two brief papers, a group presentation and organization of a class session on one the above topics, and active class participation.

Two Papers (20% each) 40%
Group Presentation and Topic Session 40%
Class Participation 20%

There are six sessions devoted to exploring urban design trends or topics. (We may review and adjust these topics depending on interests in the class.) At each of these sessions, a group of 2-3 students will be assigned to collaborate on the session content and issues. The group will present the topic and related case studies that support the trend. The students are also encouraged to present alternative examples that support or refute the importance of the trend on the future of cities and urban design. At each session, a group of faculty and urban design/planning professionals will act as respondents to discuss the student presentation. Students are expected to organize the class and lead discussion on their assigned days. At least one week prior to the assigned class session, students should meet with the instructor to present their outline for the class, including:

  • Overall context for trend and topic for discussion;
  • Key points about the topic;
  • Precedents and arguments that support or refute the trend;
  • Questions to lead class discussion;
  • Session schedule and role of each student;
  • Recommended additional readings and further resources.

Each group member will be asked to prepare a self-evaluation, and to evaluate the contribution of other members of their group at the completion of the session.

All readings should be completed in advance of each class.