Course Syllabus

`The Shape of Two Cities: NY/Paris

Urban Studies Studio A

Tuesday/Friday 9:30 am to 12:30 pm

Professor: Michelle Young,


Classroom: 200 Buell


Studio Procedure


The Urban Studies Workshop engages students with a studio-based approach to the issues and discourse of the contemporary city by exploring a variety of conceptual, analytical and design tools for understanding and operating within urban contexts through focused individual or collective research and design projects.


This studio is a multi-disciplinary one, structured in four phases:

  1. Initial in-depth research
  2. Policy formation
  3. Design proposal
  4. Design implementation


The course is taught in the studio method, with a substantive method of instruction that of “desk crits,” or dialogues between the student and professor and teaching assistant, as well as between the student and outside critics.


Visiting experts from city and state agencies, architecture firms, community organizations and development corporations will work weekly with the students of the studio, presenting their own past and present work in New York City as well as critiquing students.


Students will be expected to present their work twice a week in the studio either in digital form or as a pin-up where all students present their work for group critique and discussion. In the midterm reviews and final reviews, students present their work for public evaluation by a group of visiting critics.


It is highly recommended that students take “Intro to GIS,” an introductory class on the mapping program Geographic Information System, in conjunction with the Urban Studies Workshop.


Studio Prompt


Reimagining the South Bronx


With articles in the New York Times proclaiming “The New South Bronx” and “The Rebranding of the Bronx”, the South Bronx may have finally hit the nationwide stage, but community activists have been working for decades on improving livability for the 100,000+ residents in the Mott-Haven-Port Morris-Mott Haven area.


This studio will look primarily at a 96-acre plot of public waterfront in Port Morris in a flood zone that has been inaccessible to the public for decades, filled with industrial activity including a 5,000 ton per day waste transfer station, a Wall Street Journal/New York Post Printing Plant, and a fossil fuel power plant, that have had a significantly negative impact on air quality. In fact, asthma rates in the South Bronx are eight times the national average; asthma deaths are three times the national average; and it is estimated that one in every five children in the South Bronx has asthma. Public access to this waterfront and the Randalls-Island Connector is hindered by high truck traffic, lack of pedestrian amenities, and multi-lane boulevards.


Rapid gentrification puts further pressure on neighborhood groups to ensure a community-focused scale of development that addresses the environmental and social justice concerns the community has long faced.


This studio will operate in partnership with South Bronx Unite, a coalition of South Bronx residents, organizations, and allies working together to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the South Bronx.


Within the greater context, the Port Morris waterfront is within a largely underappreciated part of the New York City waterfront, known as the Inner Sound, that runs from the Hellgate Bridge up the East River and through the beginning of the Long Island Sound to the Whitestone Bridge. There is approximately 22 1/2 miles of shorefront: 14 on the northern shore (the Bronx and Randalls/Wards Islands), 19 on the southern shore (Queens) and 4 1⁄2 miles on the three islands in the harbor (North Brother, South Brother, and Rikers).


This waterfront is home to much of New York City’s most important infrastructure: The largest food distribution center in the Northeast, three waste transfer stations, four wastewater treatment facilities, a power plant, two of the largest heating oil storage and delivery facilities in the city, a major airport, an offshore prison barge, and the Rikers Island Jail Complex; slightly further down the East River and the Bronx Kill lie an additional power plant and waste transfer station. It also contains three major road bridges and one major rail bridge.


In addition, the area is also home to a wide variety of ecosystems, natural habitats, recreation facilities, and parks, including two island bird sanctuaries (North and South Brother Islands).



Attendance is mandatory for all scheduled classes. Additional sessions may be necessary with the teaching assistant and/or the professor. 


Class Schedule: Studio is held every Tuesday and Friday beginning promptly at 9:30 am. Students arriving 15 minutes late will be considered “late” arrivals and after 1 hour will be considered absent from the class. All anticipated absences must be reported to the professor and teaching assistant before scheduled class time. The order of the syllabus may be subject to change.


Absences will reduce a student’s course grade, as will repeat late arrivals and/or early departures from class. Three late attendances are equivalent to one drop in letter grade (from A to B, for example). Three consecutive absences or four non-consecutive absences after the first week of class will mean that you have unofficially dropped the course, receiving an F on your transcript. You may not leave early after a desk crit, you should always plan to use the hours you spend in class productively, and engage in fellow students’ presentations, participating in discourse when possible.




Weekly Assignments, Presentations and Class Participation: 25%

Midterm Reviews Combined: 30%

Final Review: 25%

Final Deliverables: 20%


The final grade will take into account the improvement and development of a student over the course of the semester. Grades are determined by the quality of the work and the development level of conceptual ideas, rather than purely by skill set.


Week 1: Initial Research


Augustin 30th: Orientation


First Assignment: Initial Research Projects




History and demographic analysis of the relevant neighborhoods: 1. Port Morris/Mott Haven 2. Hunts Point


  • History of the neighborhoods including geological and waterfront history
  • Demographic analysis of the neighborhoods
  • Who are the Stakeholders? What are the current and proposed plans for the area? What are their concerns and initiatives?
  • Connectivity: Public transit, roads, pedestrian accessibility, bike lanes
  • Zoning of the Area
  • General Land Use and Public Space Analysis


On Tuesday, September 3rd each student group must present:


  1. A 15-minute Powerpoint presentation organizing assigned topics into distinct findings and providing supporting evidence from a site visit to be done over the weekend. Do your research using reliable sources from the library, publications, government sources, etc. Supporting evidence can be collected through a variety of creative methods: via photography, video, sound recording, mapping, interviews, hand sketches, surveys with residents and more. Approach your research with an open mind and we leave it to you to determine the format and visual look of your presentation, but know that we will comment equally on visual presentation, verbal presentation, and quality of the research.
  2. A conceptual 3d sculpture made of found objects from their trip to their neighborhood area that demonstrates an issue or observation from the site(s). This is not a literal model but use the found objects to demonstrate some aspect of the site that really struck you.
  3. 36 photographs (or combination of photos/videos/sketches) organized into a 6x6 grid. Please have this digitally but also printed to pin up.


The goal of this first assignment is not only to orient students to the area of study but also to introduce research methodologies as well as address presentation skills. Be creative! There is not one correct way to get to know a site/neighborhood.



Week 2: Exploratory Research Phase


September 3rd:


Assignment Due: Presentation of Findings (Powerpoint/InDesign/PDF or Google Slides), Conceptual Model, and 36 Photograph Site Documentation due.


September 6th: Illustrator, Photoshop & InDesign Tutorial, presentation by Teaching Assistants (from 9:30 to 10:30 AM)


Assignment Due: Students will also present their revised presentations



Week 3: Mapping the City


September 10th: Group Visit to Port Morris with South Bronx Unite director, Mychal Johnson


September 13th: Visit to The Point CDC and walking tour of Hunts Point with Fernando Ortiz, Climate Preparedness and Resiliency Organizer. Meet at 9:45 AM, 940 Garrison Avenue Bronx, NY 10474.


Assignment Due: Create a Presentation of Findings (Powerpoint/InDesign/PDF or Google Slides) about the visit to Port Morris to add to your presentation:


  • What did you observe about the physical nature of this area?
  • What did you learn about the challenges facing the area and community?
  • What did you learn from speaking to residents on the street?



Week 4


September 17th: Rhino, AutoCAD, GIS (Intro) tutorial by Teaching Assistants (9:30 to 10:30 AM)


Assignment Due: Students will present revision to their presentations, a run through of the first review.


Assignment Due:


September 20th:: Midterm Review I



Week 5:


September 24th : Feedback on first review


Assignment Due: Presentation on individual focus subject matter


September 27th: Boat ride on the John J. Harvey Fireboat


Week 6:


October 1st: Visit to Waterfront Alliance office


October 4th: Rain date for Boat ride on the John J. Harvey Fireboat


Week 7:


October 8th: No Class (APP)


October 11th: Presentation by Priyanka Jain, 3x3 Design


Community Engagement Assignment Distributed


Week 8:


October 15th: Group Speed Dating Session with Architecture Studio


October 18th: Midterm Review II (Pin Up Boards)



Week 9:


October 22nd: Feedback on Review


October 25th: Visit to Bjarke Ingels


October 26th: Urban Design Program Review (for reference)



Week 10:


October 29th: Run through Midterm


November 1st:  Midterm Review III with architecture studio (Pin Up Boards) 


Week 11:


November 5th: Election Day (Holiday)


November 8th: Visit to SCAPE



Week 12:


November 12th: Desk Crits


November 15th: Desk Crits


Week 13:


November 19th: FINAL REVIEW


November 22nd: Feedback from final


Week 14:


November 26th: NO CLASS




Week 15:


Week of December 2nd: Optional meet with Michelle to review updates before final deliverables.


December 7th: Urban Design Program Final Review (for reference)


Final Deliverables Due by December 6th:

Original Final Boards and Digital Presentation

Revised Final Boards


Course Summary:

Date Details