4.241J | Spring 2013 | Graduate

Theory of City Form

Term Paper


Requirements for the term paper vary depending on whether the course is being taken for 9 or 12 credits. The two options are:

  • For 9 credits: A paper of about 10–15 pages based on a topic discussed in the class lectures.
  • For 12 credits: A paper of about 18–25 pages based on a research topic chosen by the student.


There are two deliverables for the paper:

  • Proposal: An outline of 1–2 pages maximum that covers the content of the proposed paper, including sources consulted. Due by Lecture 14.
  • Completed paper: Due by Lecture 26.


Among the most disappointing papers have been those that have stuck to description of cities, or parts of cities, without pinning these descriptions to some hypothesis or argument. It is possible, of course, to derive hypotheses from interesting data, if you keep on developing categories for understanding the data and finally say something valuable about it all. In social science, this is often called “grounded theory.” More commonly one has a hypothesis—a puzzling question, an unexplored problem, a curious relationship—and finds the appropriate data to validate (or not) the hypothesis. Whichever way you choose to work—inductively or deductively—the intellectual structure should be based on argument, be linked, and be as clear as possible. Remember that designing is a valuable mode of inquiry, and that, as architects, many of you have or should have valuable design skills that you can bring to bear in a paper for this subject.

Suggested Topics

There are many valid, unexplored topics in line with the general exploration of the subject, i.e., what are theories of the form of cities which deal with both their spatial, experienced form, and the social environment of these forms.

Below are links to pages that provide more detailed guidance on a particular approach to the paper, as well as lists of sample topics from past student papers:

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2013
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples
Instructor Insights