Publics is the study of human groups and their roles, interactions, and experiences within the built and natural environment. This Domain within the MDes program sets out to support novel approaches to socio-spatial design, planning, and advocacy. Design as a discipline provides different community sectors and power structures (public, private, community, institutional, nonprofit), working within regions, cities, and neighborhoods. It provides tools and solutions to effectively prepare for, cope with, and anticipate historic extraction, chronic disinvestment, rapid change, and disaster shocks that affect spatial, social, cultural, environmental and economic systems that shape these territories.

The Publics Domain prepares students to identify, articulate, and propose restorative, protective, and preemptive forms of transdisciplinary practice.

Diverse matters of economic and social inequality, climate change, population growth and decline, territorial conflicts, health and violence epidemics, aging civic and mobility infrastructures, and democratic governance have become central conceptual problematics of our time with direct causalities to the built and natural environment. In addition, race, power, and resistance in the city is of continued urgency, demanding a critical response from design and planning disciplines.

To understand and plan to intervene in such issues, students in the Publics Domain will consider the built and the live environment equally, studying the relationship, impact, and influence on the economic, social, political, and cultural forces that shape territories. The Domain will further focus on the intersectionality, interdependence interrelationships, and differences of these forces on design. As a Domain, we will aim to define what constitutes the Public, both spatially and socially—how it becomes legible and desirable, who gets to create and decide, and for whom do we act.

Domain Head

Toni L. Griffin, Professor in Practice of Urban Planning

Research Affiliations

Just City Lab @ Harvard Graduate School of Design