Course Meeting Times

Two lectures/week, 1.5 hours/lecture


There are no prerequisites for this course, but permission of the instructor is required.

Course Description

This course introduces graduate students to theories about how cities are formed and the practice of urban design and development, using U.S. and international examples. The course is organized into two parts:

Part 1 analyzes the forces, which act to shape and to change cities. Starting with Boston as a reference, we will examine key forces affecting contemporary urban development, such as: market economics, social forces, industrial production, the natural environment, public development, private development, and incentives to encourage good design. Finally we will consider how cities define a vision for their future and how these are articulated in plans and proposals. Lectures will be supplemented by guest presentations, case studies, and field trips.

Part 2 surveys key models of physical form and social intervention that have been deployed to resolve competing forces acting on the city. the models reflect discrete languages of city making. We will discuss the evolution of each model, practical consequences, and potentials for resolving emerging urban problems and opportunities. The models include: tradition, art, efficiency, ecology, security, emotion, and intelligence. The application of the models will be illustrated in historic and contemporary project cases from Europe. Asia, Latin America, and the U.S.


Work for this course will include readings, class participation, and two papers related to the two units of the course. Students will also be required to keep a simple journal reflecting on the readings. Student grades will be determined as follows:

  • Research papers and journal assignment: 75%
  • Participation in classes, discussion sessions, and field trips: 25%

Optional Recitation for Credit

For students with a special interest in urban design, or a desire to delve more deeply into particular topics in the subject, we will offer an optional recitation this year. The recitation will give participants the opportunity to discuss and debate representative cases related to the concepts raised in class and reflect on the readings in the syllabus. The recitation will also provide guidance and support on the two required research/design papers.

Recitation will meet for one hour on Fridays, 4 to 5 times throughout the semester, at a time to be determined with the group. Students electing to participate in the recitation will be expected to attend the sessions regularly and to participate in the discussions. Since there is limited time for discussion in class, we urge students to consider this option, which will enrich your learning.