Some say that the city is the greatest achievement of humankind. Others say it’s the ultimate reflection of our culture. But who builds the city? Is it us, architects, designers and planners? Democratic or autocratic leaders? Corporations? Citizens?
This course takes students on a whirlwind tour of the history of cities, as they are shaped and transformed by various actors and forces over the course of over seven millennia. By the end of the semester, the answer(s) to who shape our cities brings them to ancient rulers, peasants, popes, philosophers, Olympic swimmers, stage set designers, social activists, street vendors and yes – architects, urban designers and planners. A motley crew perhaps, but nevertheless all city builders. Every day, they influence our urban environment – often in highly conflicting ways.
During the first half of the course, we discuss the origins of cities and their evolution through the major eras of civilization in different regions of the world. We first look at some of the first cities ever recorded, cover the Classical Greek and Roman cities before detouring to the Middle and Far East, coming back to Europe during the Medieval period. We will then land back in the United States, where we will cover the origins of American urbanization. During each era, we discuss the main actors in building cities, their intentions and their outcomes. In the second half of the course, we cover theories and approaches to urbanism as a professional effort through a varied series of lectures, discussions, presentations, films and interactive exercises. The most prevalent visions of how to build, rebuild and unbuild cities will be presented to students, presented by students and discussed amongst the class.
To connect the history course with the studio-centered education of architecture and urban planning students, part of the course assignment has been to analyze, map and design posters on streetcar suburbs, and present these posters to the class. The pedagogy of situated learning behind this assignment has been described in a journal article I co-authored with Dr. Robert Fishman at the University of Michigan.
2017 syllabus cover
Exhibition of streetcar suburb posters, 2014