Modern Housing and Urban Districts: Concepts, Cases and Comparisons

This seminar course deals with 'modern housing' covering a period primarily from the 1900s to the present. It engages with 'urban districts' in so far as housing projects under discussion contribute to the making of these districts, and are in turn shaped by the districts in which they are placed. Cases will be drawn from different contexts, with emphasis on Europe, North America, and East Asia, although also including examples from the Americas, South and Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania.

The course begins with discussions of several broad topics germane to the issue and design of contemporary housing, including ideas of community and what constitutes a dwelling community across the span of historical time and cultural perspectives; territories and types dealing with underlying urban conditions that play host to the housing; and interiors and other landscapes that chart the diversity of contemporary living, including expressive and representation issues concerning place-specific and inherently situated aspects of dwelling, alongside the dynamic, perennially future-oriented dimensions of living.

These broad topical discussions will be followed by case studies, roughly categorized by the characteristics of architectural projects and underlying urban conditions. In each category, two contemporary examples will provide the primary focus, while precedents and other contemporaneous projects will be introduced to flesh out historical circumstances and lineages of development. These categories will include: 1) urban block shapers, 2) superblock configurations, 3) tall towers, 4) big buildings, 5) mat buildings, 6) housing and landscapes, 7) infrastructural engagements, 8) infill and puntal interventions, 9) housing special populations, and 10) rapid and incremental housing. The concluding discussion will examine various dimensions across projects and urban conditions, in part to identify opportunities and limitations for housing design, but also to set contemporary housing aside from modern and pre-modern housing in prior eras.

In Spring 2022, the first two classes will be online, with 1) a pre-recorded lecture to be viewed asynchronously, and 2) a live discussion on zoom during class time. From the third week onwards, each class will include 1) a pre-recorded lecture to be viewed asynchronously, 2) an in-class summary of the lecture, 3) student presentation of the case projects, and 4) a discussion focused on the weekly theme and reading. Beyond weekly participation and contribution to in-class discussions, the main deliverable of the course is the research, analysis, and presentation of case study projects. Students will be paired and assigned the cases at the beginning of the semester. The presenting students will meet with the instructor one and two weeks before the presentation date. Short readings may also be assigned to facilitate weekly discussions.


Up to five seats will be held for MDes students.


This course will be taught online through Friday, February 4th.