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Urban Design

Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design

Richard Plunz

Director: Urban Design

The Urban Design Program is focused on the state of the city in the 21st century, in an age of rapid urbanization with cities of growth and contraction that face the transition to new forms and meanings. The program weaves a dialogue between New York City, which is its primary focus, and other world capitals and analogous contemporary conditions; moving between recent theoretical debate on future urbanism, and applied projects that directly engage the realities of the transformations of the post-industrial city. The program attempts to engage both the daily reality of our urban condition and the theoretical abstraction of current academic debate; not one to the exclusion of the other. Urban Design is pursued as a critical re-assessment of conventional approaches relative to questions of site, program, infrastructure, and form-mass, as they have been defined by Urban Design practice during the past century. The Urban Design curriculum engages the role of architecture in the formation of a discourse on urbanism at this moment of post-industrial development and indeed, of post-urban sensibility relative to traditional Euro-American settlement norms.

The Urban Design curriculum exploits the pedagogic potential of the studio as a form of design-based critical inquiry. Studio projects focus on topics related to contemporary Urban Design practice. All three studios emphasize a multi-scalar approach to the urban site (local, neighborhood, metropolitan, regional and global scales), and view Urban Design as an inter-disciplinary practice that negotiates between diverse actors in the urban dynamic. By proposing an expanded architecturally-based teaching model for Urban Design, the program advocates working from the “ground up” rather than adopting a “top down” master-planning approach. It takes advantage of architecture’s traditional concerns for site specificity, spatial experience, construction logics, economics of organization, morphology and physical form, while also engaging realms of knowledge associated with disciplines such as urban ecology, urban geography, and landscape design. In this sense, the program is considered experimental, exploratory, and unorthodox relative to the established canons of the traditional architectural design studio.

The sequencing of the studios is intended to build the linguistic substructure that is essential to Urban Design thought and practice. This emphasis evolves from how representation of the urban site determines the quality of site knowledge (Representation); to how discourse on the city determines interpretations of its past and projections of its futures (Discourse); to the invention of the strategic languages of public engagement involving operational mechanisms for urban transformation at both the formal and programmatic levels (Public Synthesis). The sequence of seminars reinforce this construct. While each studio presents students with differing urban conditions and programming opportunities, all three semesters together reinforce the Program’s commitment to help individual designers develop rigorous Urban Design tools and methods; to acquire a working language to communicate Urban Design ideas; and to enhance the critical skills needed to test and refine Urban Design strategies.

The summer studio engages New York City as a laboratory, exploring the full range of contemporary neighborhood conditions (inner city, periphery, and outer periphery). The fall studio engages a critical analysis of urbanism as a discursive field, as construed differently by diverse disciplines. It considers how Urban Design in the New York City region must confront two interrelated tendencies. Hyper-urbanism, manifested in the continued concentration of people and capital in Manhattan, exists concurrently with re-urbanization along the regional infrastructure that is finding new meanings given today’s post-suburban tendencies involving our changing urban ecological footprint. The spring studio moves the discursive field from the New York context to other world contexts, while the exploration of Urban Design language reaches its most public phase. The Urban Design Program throughout all semesters recognizes that the discipline is by definition synthetic in its nature and not simply a benign tool in the urban development process. It is central to conceiving the financial and social capital options that are necessary to understanding development opportunities and their correlation with the most effective outcomes. Urban Design entails intense public accountability and it is with this in mind that our curriculum has evolved.