Urban Design Course Descriptions

A6836 Urban Design Seminar I - Urban Theory & Design in the Post-Industrial Age

Noah Chasin, Joy Knoblauch

This seminar is an introduction to the theoretical, critical, and formal vocabularies of postwar urbanism throughout the United States, Europe, and beyond. The class is arranged thematically and, in a larger context, chronologically. The rise of new urbanisms as a result of rapidly proliferating technological and industrial advances is explored as a backdrop to various Urban Design strategies that have been subsequently deployed: from suburban sprawl to the Team 10 critique of interwar functionalism; from megastructures to semiotic models; from New Urbanism to X-Urbanism. Such paradigms are measured with development of critiques within a comparative framework; in an effort to gain an understanding of the processes that provide the structures and infrastructures for built environments.

A6824 Reading New York Urbanism

Phu Duong, Co-coordinator; Michael Szivos, Elizabeth Barry

This seminar focuses on three critical questions embedded in the title: What is reading? What is New York? What is urbanism? The intention is to develop an understanding of New York City by studying urban systems and their effects upon communities. Students are asked to capture and author narratives about New York City’s urbanisms. A cinematic approach frames the course work to look beyond spatial or formal conditions: to think about the city in terms of material and ephemeral flows. Students learn to engage with audiences through the medium of moving images assisted by motion graphics utilizing Adobe After Effects. ArcGIS Suite is also introduced to provide a foundation for interrogating and extracting urban data in order to reveal urban issues and positions. This process requires an understanding of urban systems: its logistics, its working pieces, its changing uses, and the livelihood or conflict it presents within the context of the post-industrial city. RNYU seminar culminates in the production of short videos that demonstrates the dynamic effects of the physical, temporal, and experiential design dimensions of New York City.

A4528 Digital Modeling for Urban Design

Phu Duong, Co-coordinator; Chris Kroner, Brandt Graves

This course begins as an introduction to fundamental techniques for Urban Design modeling. The aim is to provide an entry point into modeling software that offers directions into other design territories. Students learn to visualize ideas using descriptive and generative modeling and animation techniques completed in Autodesk Maya. The course is taught with combination of class lectures, video tutorials, and individual exercises. This sequence prepares students with the skills to develop analytical diagrams and design provocations at multiple scales. In addition to learning modeling, rendering and animation basic skills students acquire a familiarity with a multi-application workflow that supports an experimental design process relevant to contemporary Urban Design practice.

A6837 Urban Design Seminar II A - Fabrics and Typologies: New York/Global

Richard Plunz

This course explores the meaning of building typology and fabric in the evolution of cities worldwide. It questions the canons of architectural and urban historiography that tend to overemphasize isolated urban monuments and heroic designers. Part I of the seminar comprises lectures by the instructor on the history of New York as evolution of its anonymous urban fabric. Focus is on the culture of housing, with the intent to grasp the political and tectonic devices that lead to specific fabrics in specific urban contexts. The city becomes a crucible to be understood both forwards and backwards in time, from extant present-day realities to underlying formational causes and vice versa. Part II of the seminar applies this exercise in urban forensics to the study of other global cities, translated from New York by the students who apply their analytic techniques and values to a place embedded in their own local knowledge. This exercise culminates in a forum that, among other things, compares designs for hypothetical architectural transformation of the case-study fabrics. Using this as a basis for critical analysis, we strategically explore design responses to urban “non-design” anonymity within the discipline of Urban Design.

A6832 Urban Design Seminar II B - Urban Prefigurations: New York/Global

Michael Conard

The accelerating rate of unprecedented urban change fueled by the proliferation of information technologies and service industries challenges traditional and theoretical Urban Design paradigms, pedagogies and practices. Conventional practice and normative conceptions of fabric are being challenged in the context of variant conditions such as sprawl, generic landscapes, informal settlements, preservation districts, marginalized centers, disused industrial zones and the environmental questions of climate change, obesity and peak oil. Metaphors for chaos, complexity, bio-urbanism, junk space, fluidity, transparency and dynamism have flourished. Yet the ability of these constructs to engage the drivers of urban form and urban policy change remain unclear and suspect. The seminar introduces students to the logic of western market driven development; to the means and methods in which design in the contemporary city is conceived, created and regulated; and to historical and contemporary land-use controls. Part One of the seminar includes weekly lectures by the instructor and/or invited guests and review of required readings. Initial discussions focus on New York City and its development through land use controls and market forces; then expand to explore the contemporary evolution of other global cities. Part Two of the seminar is organized around student presentations of global case studies that analyze formal urban conditions and develop schematic strategic design responses.

A6829 Urban Design Seminar II C - Form and Fabric Negotiations: New York/ Global

Skye Duncan

This seminar investigates the various tools, processes and systems of negotiation involved in the shaping of urban form and fabric. Participants learn about the numerous stakeholders involved in Urban Design projects and their complementary and sometimes competing interests. Using New York as the birth place, the seminar discusses the history and fundamentals of zoning, and how through land use and bulk regulations it provides one of the key frameworks to shaping our built environment. The course explores how zoning influences Urban Design, how it can in turn be informed and shaped by design, and how it can act as a tool to promote growth, to protect character, or to revitalize neighborhoods. Participants investigate a variety of local and global policy mechanisms that relate to important urban themes, including waterfront access, fresh food access, public health, sustainability, affordable housing and public space quality. These examples explore how negotiation processes can leverage private investment for public benefit; and how the sometimes blunt tools of zoning can become more nuanced to take into account the specificity of place and local context, or provide the platform to enhance opportunities for social and cultural enrichment. We explore methods of translating the often verbal-based policies into a visually-based tools; how to supplement zoning with Urban Design guidelines. With the foundation knowledge of these various negotiating mechanisms, the course culminates in a critical analysis and a developed needs assessment, to inform a proposal for a transformative and innovative zoning strategy for a given context.

A6838 Urban Design Seminar III A - Infrastructure, Resilience, and Public Space

Morana Stipisic, Bry Sarté

Why focus on cities? And why at this moment in time? What is changing at the intersection of infrastructure and public space? What are the opportunities to redefine and improve urban livability informed by integrated infrastructure? How can our evolving cities better work with energy, water and ecological systems and what are the metrics to track their success? How can we lower carbon levels while stimulating densification? How can cities utilize eco-efficiency? Why is traditional sector-specific planning process not suitable for 21st century urban development? These and similar questions are analyzed. We investigate the complexity and intertwined nature of political structures, infrastructural systems, and public space and elaborate on their causal relationship. Urban resilience is also a recurring theme. The first part of the seminar is organized as an overview of the current terminology, issues and strategies - mainly through concrete examples of best practices and successful case studies from both local and international contexts. The second part of the seminar allows the participants an opportunity to test their skills in urban system transformation, looking into the replicability and adoptability of the elaborated examples while respecting conditions related to the local culture, climate, and political regime. Depending on the targeted issue, we investigate metrics and strategies across scales, ranging from the micro scale of the paving block, to the city block, park, square or neighborhood, all the way to the macro scale of a metropolis, megalopolis or region. We analyse the needs of selected communities and propose site-specific solutions responsive to the changing global environment. We conclude with concrete strategies that could be viably implemented. Exploration of Urban Design approaches, methods and tools will deepen participants’ understanding of the interconnected workings of resilient urban systems.

A4688 Urban Design Seminar III B - Public Space and Recombinant Urbanism

Grahame Shane

This seminar examines how cities evolve and develop public space and density over time in cycles of expansion and decline. The emphasis is on the urban actors who generate these spaces. The first part of the course is based on a close reading of Recombinant Urbanism and an in-class discussion based on issues raised in the four chapters. Cities are seen as complex systems involving multiple actors, energy and information flows, resulting in diverse urban forms and systems of self-governance. The second part of the course concentrates on city models, Urban Design and public space case studies, tutorials and student presentations. Students are required to develop digital group presentations at the end of the semester, through modeling a city and selected public spaces that are assembled into a website based on the seminar research.

A6835 Urban Design Seminar III C - Asian Public Space Now

Geeta Mehta

While public space is important everywhere, it is more so in dense Asian cities and in their low-income neighborhoods and informal settlements. The intensity and scale of urban growth in Asia is one of the most exciting and alarming developments in recent history, and it is resulting in erosion and privatization of public space. Our consideration includes monumental and iconic public space, as well as those micro public spaces that impact the quality of life in dense urban environments. Three cities are the focus of this class – Tokyo, Shanghai, and Mumbai. While Tokyo deals with a stagnant economy and aging population, the skylines of Shanghai and Mumbai are rising with private iconic buildings amid large areas that are still struggling to come out of poverty. The majority of people in Asian cities live as squatters and their number is expected to double by 2050. Thus Asian cities are also the arenas where the Millennium Development Goals of poverty reduction and environmental sustainability will be either achieved or missed. Public space in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Mumbai will be discussed within this broad context of Asian lifestyles and rising expectations. The urban form, history, physical and socio-economic infrastructure, and future plans for major public space in each metropolis are critically analyzed. Ways in which these spaces respond to their urban context, governance, environmental sustainability and social equity are compared to each other and to other world cities.

A6901 Research II


This course is available in the Spring Semester, for the further investigation of issues generated previously in the MSAUD curriculum. Students may work individually or in small groups. Required is a clearly stated program and schedule of study with a designated MSAUD faculty member as Advisor; and the permission of the Program Director.

Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute

Founded in 2005, the Urban Design Lab (UDL) is a research center affiliated with The Earth Institute at Columbia University. It extends many of the research priorities associated with the MSAUD curriculum. The Urban Design Lab connects the Earth Institute expertise in the natural sciences with issues related to contemporary global urbanization. Its focus includes infrastructure, climate change, and public health. It serves as a broader resource for curriculum development and teaching in the Urban Design Program, as well as teaching support for the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the Fu School of Engineering and Applied Science. More information may be found at http://www.urbandesignlab.columbia.edu.

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