Property in Common: The Nexus Between Architecture and Real Estate

The course looks at systemic and theoretical issues that underlie contemporary dilemmas in architectural design, real estate, and property systems.  It examines architecture as both an autonomous and a contingent practice; and it examines real estate/property practices in relation to that autonomy and contingency.  Architecture’s claim on property is artistic (intellectual property) and material (real property).

Architectural work and real estate development are both speculative and they share the ground of a building site.  However, architecture and real estate define this ground very differently.  The consequence of these differences is the shaping of a nexus, which defines points of confluence not only for the realization of a specific project but also for the larger framework within which a building is designed and built.

For example, the Seagram building, like other skyscrapers in New York City in the mid-20th Century, was to be built on a property footprint that consisted of a valuable piece of zoned ground plus air rights. Instead of viewing this site as a strict envelope for the building—a structural and financial bar graph—Mies van der Rohe developed a skyscraper that yielded part of its ground to an open public plaza (the well-known privately-owned public plaza) and treated the envelope as a flexible, rather than pre-determined, entity. This building achieved, in some sense, an architectural parity with American property law and its associated sovereign systems of finance and juridical governance.

There are persuasive reasons for undertaking this subject matter:  the puzzling undervaluation of design and architecture in the marketplace and in the public imagination; the emergence of more flexible forms of production and valuation systems that now use digital scanning technologies; the difficulty in designing credible public space in American cities; a continuing housing crisis that has revived political debates over fundamental entitlements; and multi-tiered conflicts between property, infrastructure, politics, and ecological systems that architecture and global development encounter at every turn.

Students are expected to attend every class, do the assigned reading prior to the class, and actively participate in discussion.  A final paper is also required.  No prerequisites.