Slums in Architectural and Planning History

When and why did informality become an urban and architectural matter? Contemporary projects developed within precarious settlements and overcrowded areas are often interpreted as epitomes of the Modernist Project’s aim to House the Masses. This seminar questions the characterization of definitions such as “informality,” “housing deficit,” “sub-standard living,” or “slums,” and builds a thread of historical precedents that link urban informality with mainstream urban planning and design history. By relating planning and design to its broader political and economic context, the seminar seeks defining the role of spatial strategies in proposing accurate solutions to urban poverty and inequality.

Along the semester, the course builds a historical sequence of urban planning programs and design practices that emerged in the 19th Century, and which have since evolved in methods and practices that address the challenges of informality. Policies and programs include Clearance and Eviction Laws, Poor Laws, Health and Housing Acts, Subsidies to Housing Demand and Supply, Self-Management Social Movements, Land Titling, Site and Service Programs, Self-Help and Incremental Housing, Urban Upgrading and Acupuncture, and Building Renovation Programs. The emphasis in historical precedents – in their success and failure – seeks to discuss the very controversies around the characterization of slums, as well as to question how spatial practices can address social challenges.

At the beginning of the semester each student will choose an urban planning program and architectural design project responding to the conditions of a slum. During the semester students will evaluate how their cases solve a social and/or physical problem they identify; at the end of the semester, each student will present an assessment paper. The seminar session are based on the discussion about assigned readings. Additionally, both the instructor and the students will give weekly presentations related to the conceptual background and case studies of the seminar.