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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

4 Classes

Having my fourth of four classes start yesterday, I thought I would briefly describe each of them for those interested. For those who haven't been "following" this page, I'm talking about the Urban Design Program (PDF link) at City College (part of CUNY). The department is headed by Michael Sorkin and is two semesters in length.

Urban Design Studio
Unlike previous years (since the institution of the studio component in 2000) where each semester focused on a separate project -- one ideal and hypothetical, the other in NYC -- our studio has one project for the whole year. It is the design of a self-sufficient town in South America. Also, unlike previous years, this project is more practical, in that we'll work with the town (in conjunction with a local university) with the intention of implementation of the plan in some form, probably over time long after the studio's completion. It's highly ambitious and exciting for what's a relatively short period of time to tackle the design of a city. It goes without saying that issues of sustainability, among many others, are crucial to approaching the city design, making the project much more timely and important. The studio is taught by Sorkin.

History of Urban Space
Taught by Grahame Shane, this class is built around his new book Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design and City Theory as well as key texts like Lynch's Good City Form and Rowe's Collage City. This was the last class to start (yesterday) and we were treated to a guest lecture on Aranya (or Sector 72, as it's known locally) a mixed-income development in Indore, India by perhaps that country's most famous architect, Balkrishna Doshi. The town is a fascinating example of urban design based on an evolutionary view where occupants are given freedom with not only building design but use. Doshi's plan created plots and laid out services, and while he contributed many house designs for the area, they are the minority. In many ways, it's the opposite of what many might think of with larger developments, in terms of control, level of completion and user input. Immediately, I get the sense that the class will focus on unconventional historical models and methods for looking at the city and urban design.

Reading the City
Film has always been a popular subject for architects, and this class uses film noir as a device for analyzing the city. Unlike other genres (if film noir can be called one is a point of contention but one I will not go into here), one associates noir with the city more than any other place. The dark corners, wet streets, hotels, offices, and other spaces and places of the city litter films of this type. Situate within their dark and paranoid narratives, these films parallel America's thinking towards the city around the end of the war and the move from cities to suburbs. The class fits alongside the others, even though it's relationship to urban design or architecture is not as direct; it's indicative of the program's embrace of other disciplines as well as the intertwined and interdependent nature of expression and thinking. Taught by Joan Copjec.

Urban Ecologies
This class comes full circle back to the design studio and its sustainable focus. Here, ways of thinking about the environment, both historically and in the present, are valued above practical application of ecological principles. This follows from the notion that in order to know what to do about the environment we must rethink the way we look at the environment, primarily as a something we are a part of, not separate from. This is probably the most thought-provoking class (taught by landscape professor Achva Stein), especially in terms of finding ecological change at a time when economy drives decision making. Can ecological thinking work with economical thinking? Or will that decision be made for us, like it or not? We'll see.


  1. Thanks. I appreciate the descriptions of your courses. And I very much enjoy this blog.

  2. Hey, I had a professor at Columbia who also teaches at CUNY. I can't remember her name but she taught Islamic Architecture (History) Course and it was one of the best history course I ever took.

    Look her up to see what she is teaching at CUNY.

    Good Luck!


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