Cities are alive! People move through the city to reach their work, school, go shopping or to enjoy culture, art, or other people. But what environments accommodate the urban vitality we all crave for? What is the influence of urban design and architecture? A lecture series I have taught over three years at TU Delft surveyed the main theories of urban design, focusing on contemporary debates and environmental psychology.
This course provided an overview of vested theories and cutting edge research on people movement, urban vitality and public space. This includes seminal works by Gehl, Whyte, Jacobs, Appleyard, Lynch and research work by Kaplan, Ewing and Mehta. The role of citizens and designers in shaping vibrant urban public space is explored through readings, films and interaction with students. Students are consistently challenged to think critically about the material and apply it in weekly exercises, demonstrating that the course material is directly applicable in their professional careers.
This is certainly not your average dry theory course – rather than listening to lectures, the course challenged students to participate with the course material through active discussions and the direct application of theories in analyzing real urban settings. The theory course has been linked to a studio using GPS tracking technologies to measure pedestrian behavior and applying these insights in urban and architectural interventions. The course outcomes were an analysis project that connected to these measurements, but connected them to evaluative criteria as well. Over the three years I had taught the course, its enrollment grew exponentially, and is now one of the largest elective courses taught at the TU Delft faculty of Architecture. In my first year at the University of Cincinnati, this course was also offered to students.
Students' conceptual cluster of urban qualities, adapted from the work of John Montgomery and Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. Courtesy of Bao Yinxin, Evangelia Athanasiadou, Junwoo Lee, Song Liang.
Observation of Buitenhof in The Hague, with significant urban elements. Courtesy of Anne Witteveen, Joppe Kant, Kevin van der Linden, Peter van der Graaf, Sanne Mooij.