Urban Form: Transition as Condition

The fixed categories by which we have traditionally understood the urban no longer hold. They have been undermined by the multiplicity of disparate urban formations that are transforming landscapes across the globe. These transformations radically challenge not only normative planning methods, but also traditional concepts of the urban, and even our ability to understand the dynamics of change. How can we understand the conditions of change, extreme differentiation, and hybridity that challenge current conceptual models and practices? How might the insights of history and theory inform one another as well as design practices more effectively?

The purpose of the seminar is to engage these questions and to explore a range of critical frameworks and research methodologies for understanding emerging conditions of the contemporary urban – historically, theoretically, and spatially across scales.

Urban Form: Transition as Condition takes as its starting point two working propositions that are implicit in the course title. The first puts forward a conception of urban form as dynamic and active – that is, as a process of urban formation in which transition is a continuous condition. The second working proposition is that in order to understand the generative dynamics of transitional urban conditions we need to develop new methodologies for understanding change and difference, methodologies that make it possible to chart continuities and discontinuities, to map relationships between the local and the translocal, and to examine complex and unstable phenomena over time and through multiple critical lenses. In short, our research needs to be both site-specific and comparative across cultures and geographies.

These propositions will be engaged in the seminar through readings and class discussions, and individual research projects. In the first half of the semester readings and discussions will focus on a series of theoretical frameworks that conceptualize emerging urban formations in categorically transitional terms – that is, in terms of post-industrial, post-fordist, post-socialist, post-communist, and post-modern formations. These transitional categories are framed in relation to historically-based urban paradigms that posit a relationship between social, political, and economic processes and systems (industrial, fordist, socialist, communist, modern) and urban spatial forms. We will interrogate these concepts as epistemological categories, examine the paradigms on which they are based, and work to develop critical methods and visual techniques for site-based research of contemporary conditions.

In the second half of the semester students will apply these methodologies to the analysis of a particular urban site or intervention, in a city or other urban environment and geography of their choice. The topics for these individual research projects will be determined in consultation with the instructor within the first 6 weeks of the semester. The final project will have both a written component (8-10 pp) and a visual/graphic component (Due May 7). The project will also be presented in class at the end of the semester.

Requirements/assignments: Aside from completing the assigned reading and active participation in class discussions, students will be required to submit weekly 500-750 word reading responses to the canvas site on the Tuesday before class. A final research project with written (8-10 pp.) and visual components is required of each student.