Modern Housing and Urban Districts: Concepts, Cases, and Comparisons

This seminar course deals with ‘modern housing’ covering a period primarily from the 1900s to the present. It engages with ‘urban districts’ in so far as the housing projects under discussion contribute to the making of these districts, and are in-turn shaped by the districts in which they are placed. Cases will be drawn from different contexts, with emphasis on Europe, North America, and East Asia, although also including examples from the Americas, South and Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania.

The course begins with discussions of three broad topics germane to the issue and design of contemporary housing, including 1) ideas of community and what constitutes a neighborhood across historical contexts and cultural milieu, 2) territories, types, interiors, and other landscapes dealing with the constraints and dimensions of the external context and internal life, and 3) different and constantly evolving proxies of the good life used to orient and measure the design process and outcome.

These broad topical discussions will be followed by case studies, categorized by characteristics of the buildings or the external context they engage. In each category, contemporary examples will provide the primary focus, while precedents in and adjacent to architecture will be introduced to flesh out historical circumstances and paths of development. These categories will include: 1) urban block shapers, 2) tall towers, 3) big buildings, 4) housing and landscapes, 5) infrastructural engagements, and 6) infill and puntal interventions. We will also be joined by three guest speakers, each re-thinking how measures of good design are defined and measured.

In Spring 2023, the course will begin with the three introductory lectures, followed by six classes each focused on a specific housing category, and concluding with three guest speakers. Each class will consist of 1) a lecture, 2) student presentations, and 3) a discussion. Beyond weekly participation, contribution to in-class discussions, and preparations for Q&A sessions with guest speakers, the main deliverable of the course is to propose an original metric/measure/index of good housing/neighborhood, anchored to references, framed in terms of their usefulness, and populated with cases. Students will make an interim presentation between weeks 4-9, and a final presentation between weeks 10-12.