Elements of the Urban Stack

Where does our agency as designers of the built environment lie in current practice? As urban projects grow in complexity, swelling and speeding up to attain maximum impact, is our work inevitably defined and shaped by the pressures of finance, automation, and regulation? What is the role and responsibility of design practice as a driver of urban change and challenger of the status quo amid these increasing external pressures? 

PRO-7445 provides students with perspective on the infrastructures of power and emerging conditions that drive urban development in the contemporary built environment and explores traditional and alternative pathways for practice that effect change in the face of complexity. The “Urban Stack” is our framework for exploration and definition. It can be thought of as a layered set of systemic constructs – capital, technological, and political – that interact with contemporary conditions – e.g., digital culture, climate and economic instability, social inequity, and automation – to serve as the basis for constructing context for (re)imagining and transforming the built environment and our relationships with it. 

The goal of the course is to seek gaps and opportunities for design impact in the real world through emerging modes of practice and project types that operate on, within, or against the systemic constructs that form the Urban Stack, that enable and drive urban development. The course interrogates the designer’s role today and in the future as a provider of solutions, strategist, entrepreneur, advocate and/or agent of cultural or civic change.

The format will balance weekly lectures with collaborative cross-disciplinary research, analysis, discussion, and position formation around course topics. This open enrollment course is intended for students in architecture, landscape architecture, MAUD, MUP, MDE, and MDes/DDes who are interested in design at the metropolitan scale. While there are no prerequisites, this course is recommended for students who have already completed the core sequence of their degrees. Please be aware that the format of the class is aimed at interdisciplinary collaboration, and that the success of this venture depends upon each individual being willing and able to contribute to a team effort.