History and Theory of Architecture IX

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete
Dr. Hans Teerds

Cities are the most common human habitat today. Moreover, it is expected that within the next few decades two-thirds of the world population will live in cities. Now this in itself is a debatable statement, since the urban condition cannot be subsumed under one heading at all. Even within cities, conditions vary from street to street, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Never mind the enormous differences that exist between cities. Nevertheless, the urban condition is increasing, and is thus also the topic of discussion among a wide range of people, from politicians to economists, from anthropologists to philosophers, from citizens to activists, and from developers to designers. This discourse, although challenged by the current growth of cities, has a long pedigree in history. Already from the establishment of Greek and Roman city states, the city has provoked theorists, citizens, politicians, artists and designers to think and write about its form and functioning, appearance and structure, about the advantages and downsides of urban life. Besides urban scholars and theorist, also architects and urban planners have made valuable contributions to these discussions, not only in writings but also in projects, proposals and designs. Due to their ability to read the material, functional, and phenomenological aspects of the city and imagine alternative future scenarios, they have offered perspectives that consciously or unconsciously shape new urban environments, adapt to new societal developments, or offered better alternatives. The ambition of this survey-course is to offer an introduction to urban theory for students of architecture and urban design as well as to rethink the agency of architectural design facing the contemporary challenges in cities. The course introduces a range of topics, ranging from politics to public space, and from climate change to segregation. By investigating these topics, it first aims to show how these are particularly prominent in urban environments. Second, it aims to show how the physical environment is part and parcel of these challenges, and thus how it is related to the realm of architecture. Through this overview, it challenges students to reflect upon the topicality of the city, the role of architecture, and the own position as an agent in intervening in cities.

Image: Columbus redlining map, 1936, U.S. Government