The Center for Advanced Urbanism supports the joint urban design offered through the departments of Architecture and Urban Studies and Planning. The following is a sample of recent joint urban design studios offered. For official information, please follow the links.
4.163J / 11.332J Urban Design Studio - Terra-sort-Firma: Coding Resilient Urbanism in South Florida
Instructors: Adèle Santos, Alan Berger, Fadi Masoud
With nearly 20 million residents, Florida is one of the country’s fastest growing states. Its ubiquitous suburban landscape is enabled by the continued manipulation of a dynamic estuarine environment and a pervasive real-estate-driven housing pattern. Thirty-five miles of levees and 2,000 hydraulic pumping stations drain 860 acres of water per day, resulting in the ‘world’s largest wet subdivision’ and putting $101 billion worth of property below sea level by 2030. The overall structure that defines Florida’s cities emerges from the combination of hard infrastructural lines, developer driven master plans, powerful reductive normative zoning, and rigid form-based codes. Taken together, they dictate everything from the use of the land, to its subdivision patterns, and from building heights, setbacks, densities, street widths, and open space ratios, all the way to roof pitch angles, and fence hues.
These conventional tools, however, have proven marginal in dealing with the increased vulnerability caused by Florida’s inherently dynamic environmental forces. Tidal flows, severe weather events, rising sea levels, and the hyper-speed nature of living matter, all make for a constantly fluctuating environment. This renders the traditional static “object-based codification”, which has defined much of physical urban design so far, inadequate and in need of urgent innovation.
By recognizing that it is exactly in the process of physical planning and design that we may be the most operative and strategic agents, this Urban Design Studio puts front and center the agency and efficacy of urban designer’s tools as they deal with issues of 21st century urbanism. It starts by accepting the “third condition” as a space for urban development. The “third condition” refers to the constantly influx hydrological state — that is neither wet nor dry but always shifting — as the starting point of a novel and contextual “process-based” language for coding the future of Floridian urbanism.
Several counties in South Florida began a review of their comprehensive physical planning documents since executing the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact in 2010. Accordingly, Palm Beach and Broward Counties (north of Miami) will serve as the practicum’s clients. Two sites of further exploration — Pond Apple Slough near Fort Lauderdale’s Airport and Loxahatchee Groves at the peri-urban western frontier of Palm Beach — are representative of a range of urban, suburban, agricultural, infrastructural, and ecological, variations of Florida’s urbanization. Specific programs will be developed after an initial research and mapping phase, and may range from the design of large-scale landscape infrastructural systems to the design of suburban housing prototypes of varying densities along the Everglades Coast. One site will require a retrofitting strategy, while the other remains highly undeveloped, yet both are considered priority areas of investigation in their respective counties.
The studio is broken into two main phases, an analytical research and mapping exercise, followed by a multi-scalar design strategy and proposal. The brief will ask students working in teams to develop a systemic driven approach that takes the hydrological extremes and ecological resonance of the context as the foundations of their formal proposition. Through the design process, students will then devise a set of unique resiliency zoning, codes, land uses, programs, and typologies that are empirical and precise, yet dynamic, flexible, and responsive. These new codes will be collected in a compendium of urban design guidelines to be handed to the practicum’s clients as they reconsider their policy documents. By incorporating the indeterminacy of the shifting broader environmental systems, with the pervasiveness and exactitude of planning code, we establish an opportunity for the instrumentality of policy to be a part of the design process and a progeny of it.
The studio is open to SMArchs, MCP, and MArch students by permission of instructors. This studio is seeking an equal balance of degree students from both Architecture and Planning. The studio counts towards the UD Certificate.
11.332J / 4.163J Urban Design Studio - Providing Infrastructure for Informal Settlements in Bello, Colombia
Instructor: Jose (Jota) Samper, Lorena Bello
It is common knowledge today that the World is urbanizing at high speed. Urban thinkers are confronted with the statis- tics that five billion of us will be living in urban areas by 2030, meaning that one million people per week will be joining the urban life in many contexts of our planet in the next fifteen years. This urban growth rate has turned the attention of many scholars and designers towards the Global South, where most of the one billion living under the poverty line in informal settlements today, will be joined by another billion in less than two decades.
Slums, Comunas, Favelas, Bidonvilles, Chabolas, Correas, Barracas, Kampung, Morros, Squatters or Shanty Towns just to name a few, are the physical manifestation of this informality; A geography that results from the lack of capacity of city managers to effectively respond to this huge migration, speed of occupation and the lack of means of rural new comers. As a result of this process, informal settlers usually occupy the undesirable left over spaces of their former host cities –flood areas or steep slopes; and they do so by plugging into their host urban infrastructures to survive. Even if many romanticize the plasticity for survival as well as our capacity as human beings to self-conform our landscapes for inhabitation, these informal fabrics are subject to many social and environmental problems which also compromise the ecological carrying capacity of their host territory.
These settlements are far from being new geographies in the 21st century; informality has coexisted with formality since the industrial revolution. What is new to this new era however, are both the speed and scale of the process as well as the growth in inequalities between formal and informal settlers. For these reasons many think that together with climate change, informality is one of the most pressing problems to be tackled by urban thinkers and designers in our century in the Global South; and the Medellin Urban Design Studio wants to join this challenge
11.S943 Advanced Research Workshop in Landscape + Urbanism
Instructor: Andrew Scott and Alan Berger
Term: Spring 2013
In order to further the Decade of Design: Health & Urbanism initiative, and choose the cities that will be laboratories for further research, the CAU held a course titled, “Advanced Research Workshop in Landscape + Urbanism,” during the 2013 spring semester.
The semester was structured so that students studied eight metropolitan regions that were chosen as laboratories for further analysis. The research included field work, novel forms of geographic and environmental analysis, social factors, and ultimately the development of indexed priorities detailing the largest impacts where design may influence future urban health improvements. The research served as the basis for the Decade of Design: Health + Urbanism initiative. Students traveled to meet directly with local public sector officials in the identified communities and also be analyzed a wide range of data as a part of their projects. After the semester concluded, a report  was produced that helped create a strong base for the future joint goals of the AIA and MIT on Decade of Design.
This report is a preliminary summary and accounting of work conducted by graduate students in a semester-long workshop held at MIT, which marked the first 3 months of a 10-year study. This report is not intended to be read as a comprehensive peer-reviewed document, and is not endorsed as a peer-reviewed study by MIT or CAU.
11.332J / 4.163J Urban Design Studio - Salton Sea
Instructor: Alan Berger, Alexander D'Hooghe
Term: Fall 2012
This studio will investigate ‘landscape and urbanism’ opportunities for an area known as the Salton Sea, located in the Sonoran Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties just north of El Centro, California. Our task will be to plan and design for new development that will accommodate 40,000 people over the next twenty years, including: new landscape, infrastructure, and housing scenarios.
Background: Water, Infrastructure, Environment, Agriculture
The Salton Sea is one of the world's largest and lowest inland seas at 227 feet below sea level. It is California's largest lake with a surface area of 381 square miles. Its environmental history is a fascinating tale of human error and engineering hubris. The Sea was created accidentally as a part of the Colorado River delta in 1905 when massive flooding caused the Colorado River to break through a poorly constructed irrigation levee and flow freely into the Salton Basin until 1907. For the past hundred years the water level has been maintained primarily by agricultural runoff flows from the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali Valleys.
Although the proposed is an extremely contemporary project, it also addresses older currents in American urbanism – specifically the tradition of the ideal community built with a sense of autarky, in other words – in isolation. A town of 40,000 not coincidentally resonates with historical models of ideal towns, from the Renaissance up to utopian American settlements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nineteenth and twentieth century company towns, and collectivizing ideals of socialist utopians (Owen in the USA), later successfully realized in Kibbutz (Israel) and Kolchozes (Former Soviet Union). The premise of such towns is a certain figural and formal clarity which itself explains a stance of independence vis a vis the social terrain at large. Furthermore, these towns have an intense agricultural component, driven by their constitutive requirement for self-reliance. What this project instates, then, not only the design of agriculture as a system, but also that of the town as a clear figure –a description cut out of the desert. The studio will tap into the urbanist tradition to elaborate both the cultural and social consequences of the drying out, and resulting artificial resuscitation, of the desert ecosystem
4.162 Introductory Urban Design Studio - An Architecture of the Territory
Instructor: Alexander D'Hooghe, Miho Mazereeuw
Term: Fall 2012
This studio explores the formal, socio-spatial, and disciplinary consequences of the ideological acceptance of the vast field of urbanization as one beyond the confines of compact, historic city, as well as beyond the conventions and types of architecture as a constitutive element of such a city. Such a Post-urban ideology, itself the almost inevitable result of mass suburbanization witnessed any globalizing economy, is premised on the fact that the entirety of our lives is now urban, yet our common overall density is thinner than ever. On scales vastly magnified by means of automobile as well as other transit technologies, architecture, once operating on a scale to effectively organize the public life of the pedestrian, now confronts scales and orders vastly beyond its own historical perimeter. The logical scale limits of architectural order form one thread through the studio – and the necessary expansion of its formal thinking to include modes of operation hitherto reserved for landscape ecology, or for transportation engineering. The problem of representation and centrality forms another theme across the various exercises. The underlying question here is – can it be possible to organize a sense of publicness and shared experience in a space as disperse as our suburbs? And if this space could exist, what are the formal attributes that it demands? A third theme concerns the acceptance of the elements endogenous to suburban development as well as the ways in which its inhabitants appropriate it: in other words our address of non-compact urbanization is not about a denial of its constitutive syntax, but rather attempts to understand its underlying logics and formal structure in order to crystallize, sharpen and from there, transform it.
11.332J / 4.163J: Urban Design Studio - Lincolnopolis
Instructor: Alan Berger, Alexander D'Hooghe
Term: Fall 2011
One major assumption of the studio agenda is that a suburban/peri-urban supermajority will drive future U.S. metropolitan growth, and we will start by accepting this new order as a paradigm for design: horizontality, multi-nodal development, suburban building types, and large open productive landscapes will populate this regional structure. This studio will use Lincoln, Nebraska as a growth scenario laboratory to model and design for these trends, and will work with the Department of Landscape Architecture/Planning at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to obtain local insights and access to ethanol facilities. Scenarios will be developed to double the population of Lincoln to the year 2050 while only applying the very low mean density increases to its existing urban fabric suggested by market history. Ultimately, this results in a new horizontal or multi-nodal city around the old city, forcing tough decisions on a variety of landscape resources and urban design issues. This studio will yield a new territorial order that explores the tradeoffs and intersections of natural resource limitations and growth to achieve a new regional landscape and architecture. The studio will organize itself around a double agenda. On the one hand, it will address the real problems and issues of metropolitan Lincoln, and attempt to aid with intelligent, generous and rigorous planning and architecture solutions. In this sense, it will operate as an enlightened architecture and planning agency, researching design solutions that optimize benefits for a large-as-possible audience. In other words, projects should benefit several constituencies with different political viewpoints and interests. On the other hand, the studio will organize a systematic self-reflection on disciplinary grounds. It will use an ongoing public dialogue between a systemic-landscape approach that considers multiscalar ecological and urbanization processes. These terms can become anchors of a conversation with disciplinary overtones, one that addresses the teleology and instrumentarium of contemporary territorial urbanism. Setting the terms of a mental discipline of working - or contributing to the structure of pure thought – is the task of the academy, and we will perform it in this studio.
11.332J / 4.163J: Urban Design Studio - Bilbao
Instructor: Alan Berger, Alexander D'Hooghe
Term: Fall 2010 This studio will study design strategies for the area connecting the historic city of Bilbao to the Atlantic Ocean through an elongated system of road, harbor and marine infrastructures. The projects will cover different scales from the territorial to the architectural. Marine and landscape systems, as well as architectural infrastructures will be investigated in order to devise a strategy for the very large scale. The Studio will run in conjunction with a studio at the CEU Madrid. The studio will organize itself around a double agenda. On the one hand, it will address the real problems and issues of Bilbao, and attempt to aid with intelligent, generous and rigorous planning and architecture solutions. In this sense, it will operate as an enlightened architecture and planning agency, researching design solutions that optimize benefits for a large-as-possible audience. In other words, projects that benefit several constituencies with different political viewpoints and interests. On the other hand, the studio will organize a systematic self-reflection on disciplinary grounds. It will use an ongoing public dialogue between a systemic-landscape approach that considers multiscalar ecological processes. These terms can become anchors of a conversation with disciplinary overtones, one that addresses the teleology and instrumentarium of contemporary territorial urbanism. Setting the terms of a mental discipline of working - or contributing to the structure of pure thought – is the task of the academy, and we will perform it in this studio.