Course Syllabus


Instructor: Richard Plunz

COURSE DESCRIPTION This course explores the meaning of urban building typology and fabric in the evolution of cities worldwide. It questions the canons of architectural and urban historiography that tend to overemphasize the isolated monument rather than fabric. We scrutinize the evolutionary history of anonymous urban fabric, often created by the uncelebrated architect or builder, and which comprises the major building volume of this and all cities. The focus is on the culture of housing with intent to grasp the political and tectonic devices that lead to specific fabrics in specific urban contexts. The city becomes a crucible to be understood both forwards and backwards in time, from extant present-day realities to underlying formational causes and vice versa. Beginning with New York City, this exercise in urban forensics is played back for other global cities. Seminar participants translate the technique and values learned from the New York case to case-studies embedded in their own local knowledge, culminating in a final forum in which comparative projected architectural transformation of fabrics becomes the basis of critical discourse. PART I of the seminar comprises a series of LECTURES focused on the historical evolution of fabric types in New York City within the comparative context of certain other large Western cities. Using New York as the primary reference, emphasis is placed on the interplay between the political and tectonic forces that have shaped modern urbanism with particular emphasis on housing fabrics. PART II of the seminar is organized around participant presentations of CASE STUDIES comparing world cities in relation to their characteristic fabric types. The instructor and participants choose these cities jointly. Central to this analysis is the construction of numerical/geometrical analogues for each case study. These analogues, when applied in reverse, can function as a design tool to generate similar fabrics within the contemporary context of the same or other cities. A compilation of the case studies including graphic analysis and written background constitutes the requirements for completion of the course. This material will stand as a record of the collective research. The exact nature of the analysis will evolve throughout the first half of the seminar in consultation with the instructor. It is expected that the case studies will follow a simple comparative format coordinated between the groups Required readings for the Part I Lectures comprise the book A History of Housing in New York City, which is available at the Columbia University Bookstore.


Week 0: Course Introduction: HOW NEW YORK CAME TO BE Organization of the course and introduction to the development logics of New York City.

Week 1: Introduction: Local Fabrics / Global Typologies (lecture) The pre-Colonial context of the European occupation; the 17th Century fabric of New York within a global context; Northern European origins of early building typologies New York as City-State during the early industrial revolution; methods and conventions for fabric analysis from type to phenomena.

Week 2: New York/Global: Terrace Urbanism (lecture) Flemish origins for the New York fabric; English domination and the change in housing ideals; Americanization of the English terrace types; the imperative for density and the transformation of the row-dwelling; pathologies of density; the beginnings of the reform movement in London and New York.

Week 3: New York/Global: Courtyard Urbanism (lecture) The impetus for reform and the pre-figuration of courtyard typologies; design ideals and the international housing movement in London, Brussels and Berlin; private philanthropy and the evolution of the courtyard; Paris, the Beaux-Arts, and development of normative New York fabric by the turn-of-the-century.

Week 4: New York/Global: High-Rise Transformation (lecture) The demise of the brownstone house and the crisis in upper-class housing production; structural and mechanical engineering innovation and the revolution in domestic building technology; high and low technology and the urbanization process; Parisian urbanism of the Third Empire and the evolution of bourgeois housing ideals in New York; the new collective scale and the demise of continuous high-rise urbanism.

Week 5: New York/Global: Horizontal Collectivity (lecture) The perfection of transportation technology and the evolution of the garden apartment; innovation in financing and the new scale of housing production; the new horizontal city of the outer Boroughs contrasted with housing innovation in London, Berlin and Amsterdam; spatial controls for the new inner periphery.

Week 6: New York/Global: Modernist Interlude (lecture) The case for an indigenous American social-functionalism; the appearance of the aesthetic of "minimum existence" in Europe; transfer of American technology to the European modernist project; "International style" modernism and the disruption of the garden apartment tradition; Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin and new housing reform ideals in New York; the development of government philanthropy and reductive housing typologies; evolution to the high-rise slab-block as global icon for modern social housing; housing production as cultural critique in Rome.

Week 7: New York/Global: Sub-Urban Disjunction (lecture) The first post-industrial crisis and the development of de-urbanist strategies; the single-family house as catalyst for the new post-industrial culture; architects and the ideology of dispersal; the post-War sub-urban transformation of the culture of housing; the "affluent society" and its urban scourges.

Week 8: New York/Global: Post-Suburban Urbanisms (lecture) The critique of de-urbanization in both city in suburb; the dissolution of the "tower-in-the-park" ideology and the reinvention of the low-rise city; new definitions of luxury; government disinvestment in social housing and the new philanthropy; evolution toward a "new American ghetto;" globalization of the culture of housing.

Week 9: New York/Global: DELIBERATING THE BUBBLE (lecture) Second post-industrial phase, the new global context, and the crisis of the F.I.R.E. economy; decline of social housing production; the ecological and economic imperatives for new green infrastructure; potentials for a renewed city-state configuration; the world city versus cosmopolitan ideals.

PART II: CASE-STUDY PREPARATION (Comparative Fabric Analysis)

Week 10 Global Case-Study: Fabric Documentation (tutorial)

Week 11 Global Case-Study: Typological Analysis (tutorial)

Week 12 Global Case-Study: Preliminary Transformation Due (tutorial)

Week 13 Global Case-Study: Analogue Development (tutorial)

Week 14 Global Case-Study: Final Presentation

THE COMPARATIVE FABRIC ANALYSIS The seminar portion of this course is organized around student presentations of Case-Studies comparing several world cities in relation to their particular characteristic fabric types. For each, this comparison will begin with a historical background and documentation of the existing fabric under consideration. It will then expand to a presentation of a comparative analysis that follows the same format from city to city. Central to this analysis will be a construction of numerical / geometrical analogues for the existing fabric type. These analogues will then be applied in reverse as tools to generate new fabrics that may better respond to contemporary situations involving similar formal prerequisites. This "design" transformation will be the final element of the presentation, placed within a general overview of the particular city context . A compilation of the Case-Studies including graphic presentation and written summation constitutes the requirement for completion of the course. This material will stand as a record of the research and as a resource for this and subsequent classes. Students will work in teams of two. Detailed guidelines for the Case-Study analyses will be distributed early on in the course.

Course Summary:

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