A Global History of Urban Design II

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete

This course aims to provide an overview of the development of cities and urban design from the very beginning of documented human settlement to the present. It specifically challenges students to gain an understanding of this history on a broader, global scale, highlighting cross-cultural developments. The course aims to extend this field of knowledge beyond the focus on urban development in Europe and North America, taking into account the various instances of cultural cross-fertilization that build up a global history of cities and urban design. From the earliest human settlements in India, Turkey and the Near East, the survey examines the traditional, pre-modern and modern concepts that have historically had a bearing on urban development, up to and including the dynamic growth of contemporary cities in Asia and Africa.

The history and theory of urban design are addressed as a matter of material culture in which architects and urban designers have an explicit agency. Through discussions and interactions with economists, politicians, planners and citizens, architects and urban designers define how we approach this most complex artefact in our material culture, how we engage with its memory, how its condition is understood and how its future can be conceived.

This course aims to open a particular architectural lens on the history of the city. It not only pays specific attention to the composition, the typologies and the materialities of the city, but also conceives the foundational principles, the patterns of evolution as well as the potential for further development as a central architectural concern. In addition, it explores the material and spatial realm in which architects operate in relation to the social, economic, cultural and political realms that constitute the city – and in which many other urban stakeholders have their say. In other words, this course critically explores how the form of the city expresses certain political, economic or cultural norms, and how this form in turn imposes these norms on those who inhabit it. It also aims to understand how the architecture of the city has a certain autonomy, which provides it with the capacity to remain unaffected by changing social, political and cultural practices.

The role of architects and urban designers within the development of the city is the main concern. The course interrogates how designed architectural and urban elements, forms and materials follow or define the structures and cultures of the city.

Image: Justus van Effen Complex, Michiel Brinkman, Rotterdam, 1919-21, Collection Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDJ ph1931-a © Pictoright 

We recommend the readings below as general reference for the course. These may be found in the library, where they have been placed on reserve.

  • Eric Mumford, Designing the Modern City: Urban Design Since 1850 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018)
  • Francis D. K. Ching, Mark Jarzombek and Vikramditya Prakash, A Global History of Architecture (Hoboken: Wiley & Sons, 2017)
  • David Grahame Shane, Urban Design Since 1945: A Global Perspective (Hoboken: Wiley & Sons, 2011)