Global shifts in the climate system require resetting the paradigms that have guided urban growth for centuries. The Program frames the city not as a fixed, delineated territory—a modernist fixation on boundaries—but instead as a gradient of varied landscapes supported by networks of food, energy, resources, culture, transportation and capital. In this light, the historical terms urban, rural or suburban are no longer sufficient to address the “wicked problem” of climate change. Program work stresses near and long term threats to local, regional and global ecosystems, framing urban design as both an inclusive, activist, tools-based project for specific sites and communities and as a critical project examining urban form, knowledge and research processes.
Students and faculty work together over a series of three intensive semesters to weave a multi-scalar analysis of urban-regional fabrics and infrastructures with on-the ground, detailed studies of places and lived conditions. New York City serves as a primary initial case study for a design methodology; the scope expands in the second semester to regional research about New York and other American city-regions and concludes in the final semester with investigations in emerging global capitals and agglomerations in Asia, Africa, and South America.
The curriculum exploits the pedagogic potential of the design studio as a site of research, visionary speculation and critical inquiry. The Urban Design curriculum broadly integrates a range of interdisciplinary expertise, internal to Columbia University—such as the School of Public Health, the Earth Institute, and the School of Engineering—and external to the school, through regular engagement with governmental and non-governmental agencies, institutions and organizations.
Across the three semesters of the program, work ranges from site formation and policy, to visualization, and documentation of lived spatial and social conditions. Research, assignments and deliverables seek forms of mediation and action to address the challenges of global and local change. The sequencing of three studios builds a shared understanding of urban theories and terms, design tools, and research methods essential to urban design thought and practice. The collaborative studio setting enables a synthetic approach to design that weaves together environment, systems, and planning.
Throughout the studio sequence, projects emphasize a multi-scalar approach to site and program, embracing local, regional, and global scales and advancing the role of the urban designer as a catalytic and thoughtful practitioner who can place herself among diverse actors, existing conditions, and imagined futures.
The Summer Studio I is foundational, addressing experimental, representational and constructive aspects of urban design as a process. The studio frames the Five Boroughs of New York City as a learning lab, examining biophysical infrastructures, conflicting public and private interests, and ongoing socio-spatial change.
The Fall Studio II expands in scope to consider the city-region, examining large scale interdependencies and interactions. Studio research addresses the particular conditions of American city-regions (currently, the Hudson Valley) in which shifting ecological, topographical, infrastructural, demographic and social conditions call for new strategies for systemic action.
The final Spring Studio III takes on problems of global urbanization, extending previous work on variously-scaled physical and social infrastructures, programmatic interventions and community partnerships. The studio typically travels to two cities, working in close cooperation with local partners and organizations.