Elements of the Urban Stack

The Urban Stack is a pedagogical framework for understanding the infrastructures of power that operate in relationship to practice. These elements shape the design and production of the built environment in our time of increasing uncertainty, project complexity, and risk. The course is designed to explore, translate and generate alternative readings of our built context; to imagine how design and planning practice can shape the environmental, social, cultural, and experiential qualities of urban form within our emerging 21st century context. A primary objective of the course is to identify gaps and opportunities in the urban stack to enable culturally and socially transformative development. We will seek space for design impact and agency through established and emerging modes of practice and project that operate on, within, or against the systemic constructs. 

Our task is to collectively answer the following questions: Where does our agency as designers of the built environment lie in current practice? As urban projects grow in complexity, swelling and speeding up to attain maximum impact, is our work inevitably defined and shaped by the pressures of finance, automation, and regulation? What is the role and responsibility of design practice to confront profound systemic inequality amid these increasing external pressures? 

Each year, PRO-7445 interrogates the elements of the urban stack through the lens of different themes. This term, our focus is on urban housing and habitation. Students will also have the opportunity to contribute to a larger disciplinary conversation that responds to the COVID-19 pandemic and the inequity it has laid bare by applying the Urban Stack methodology to provide analysis, knowledge, and provocation for design practice futures. PRO-7445 will join students enrolled in the Department of Architecture practice classes, faculty, and invited guests to convene in a Practice Plenary to investigate the ways in which crisis reveals the potential for architecture to act. Sparked by the recent George Floyd protests and the persistence of structural racism, the plenary investigates how crises unveil issues of inequality in the built environment, challenge the ethical role of an architect, and question new modes of disciplinary engagement. The Plenary theme is Crisis & Inequality.

The course format will balance lectures and panels of guest practitioners with collaborative cross-disciplinary research, analysis, discussion, and position formation around course topics. PRO-7445 is intended to bring together students across disciplines and degrees. The format of the class is aimed at interdisciplinary collaboration and novel investigation of the topics at hand. The discourse-heavy course format favors synchronous participation, however special provisions such as recorded lectures and additional office hours will be provided for students living in time zones that prevent synchronous participation. There are no costs beyond tuition associated with this course.