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Courses

The emergence of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s transformed the way I teach.

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Since 1996, my course Web sites have been a framework for learning and a public forum for presentation and discussion. Students post their work online so their findings can be seen and discussed by others. Since the work of each year’s class is archived online, current students learn from past students too.

My current courses at MIT are online. So are some past ones including several from 1996-1999 at the University of Pennsylvania. Each Web site features the course syllabus and assignments and showcases student work. These are public sites, requiring no passwords, so all are welcome to visit.

 

The Once and Future City, MIT (11.016/4.211)

What is a city? What shapes it? How does its history influence future development? How do physical form and institutions vary from city to city and how are these differences significant? How are cities changing and what is their future? This course addresses these and other questions, with emphasis upon twentieth-century American cities. A major focus is on the physical form of cities—from downtown and inner-city to suburb and edge city—and the processes that shape them.

The class explores these issues through lectures, readings, and analysis of particular places. Each student selects a small site in the Boston region as the subject of four field assignments where they learn to “read” the city and become an expert on the past and present evolution of that particular place.

Students present their findings online with links to the course website, which permits them to compare sites across the city. These student Web sites, along with lectures and readings, provide material for class discussion. Collectively, the individual sites give an insight into the processes by which cities are shaped.

Students, mostly undergraduates, come from many fields, including architecture and urban studies, aeronautical and mechanical engineering and computer science, mathematics and physics, literature and psychology.

Visit the classroom and see the sites

Listen to how students describe what they learned

 

Urban Nature and City Design, MIT (11.308/4.213)

This graduate seminar explores the urban environment as a natural phenomenon, human habitat, medium of expression, and forum for action. The course has several major themes: how ideas of nature influence the way cities are perceived, designed, built, and managed; how natural processes and urban form interact and the consequences for human health and welfare; how planners and designers can shape the urban natural environment.

Most students come from architecture and urban planning, but many are from other fields as well, including landscape architecture, education, media studies, and journalism.

Each student selects a topic and researches and presents a case, historical or contemporary, which represents successful adaptation of city design and planning to natural processes.

Visit the classroom and read the cases

 

Sensing Place: Photography as Inquiry, MIT (11.309/4.215)

This graduate course explores photography as a disciplined way of seeing, of investigating landscapes and expressing ideas. Each student selects a site as the focus of their work in the course. Two weeks of observing and recording light in a daily journal is followed by photographic assignments on light, significant detail, and poetics, culminating in a visual essay on the identity of a particular place.

Most students come from architecture and urban planning, but many are from other fields as well, including landscape architecture, government, education, media studies, and material science.

Visit the classroom and see the photographs and essays

 

Transforming the Urban Landscape Studio – 1996-1998, University of Pennsylvania

In design education, the studio is the heart of the curriculum, the place where students apply knowledge and skills gained in other courses to a design/planning project, whether fictitious or real. This studio met for three four-hour sessions per week; it was required for graduate students in the department of landscape architecture.

The course challenged students to be pragmatic visionaries: grounded in an understanding of people, place, and politics, yet never losing sight of visions of what might be. Students’ proposals ranged from detailed designs to strategic landscape plans. They worked in a real neighborhood with real people on a real project, putting theory into practice.

The place: the Mill Creek watershed in West Philadelphia, particularly the neighborhood in the vicinity of Sulzberger Middle School, which was built on the buried floodplain of Mill Creek, now encased in a sewer. Much vacant land near the school, whether small lots or whole square blocks, is located on the buried floodplain.

The people: teachers and students at Sulzberger Middle School and members of Aspen Farms Community Garden, located a block from the school. Working with Sulzberger students and teachers in a succession of workshops gave graduate students an opportunity to get to know their “clients.”

The project: while the specific projects varied from year to year, the overarching goal was to develop strategic plans for vacant land on the buried floodplain to simultaneously address regional water quality and local community development and to explore how a new middle-school curriculum organized around “The Urban Watershed” could integrate learning, community development, and water resource management.

The course drew from the resources of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, an action-research program integrating research, teaching, and community service since 1987, and from the information generated by a spring course, The Power of Place (see below)

See LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT to read more about the West Philadelphia Landscape Project.

Visit the West Philadelphia Project Web site

To visit the classroom and see design proposals, refer below to the studios for each year.

 

Transforming the Urban Landscape Studio – 1996, University of Pennsylvania

This class was the first of three successive studios on transforming the urban landscape of Mill Creek in West Philadelphia. There were six assignments: a short sketch problem, a brief period of data collection, workshops with middle-school students, two design projects, and a two-week period of reflection.

1. Sketch problem. Once Mill Creek flowed through West Philadelphia. Now it is buried in a sewer, invisible to most people, but it continues to shape landscape and life. How can the buried river be revealed and rainwater celebrated so people feel and know the importance of these urban waters? See what one student proposed

2. Develop an online database to be used by the whole studio in successive projects. See the data the class assembled

3. Develop and implement a series of workshop exercises in environmental design for eighth graders at Sulzberger Middle School.

4. Design a nursery for street trees on a vacant lot near Sulzberger Middle School as an outdoor classroom for the school, where sixth-grade students will plant the trees, tend them, then, as eight-graders, transplant the trees to city streets. See a proposal

5. Design an outdoor classroom: a water garden, place for water play, and detention basin for stormwater runoff. This “laboratory” will be maintained by middle-school students as part of their science curriculum. See a proposal

6. Review and reflect on the work of the entire semester. Students redesigned the class Web site and published it as a CD-ROM, which was distributed to more than 300 public officials, designers, and planners around the world. The CD-ROM was designed to compensate for the slow speed of dial-up modems (ca. 14.4 kb/sec in 1996).

This 1996 class was an experiment, an initial attempt to exploit the potential of the Web as a framework for the syllabus, database, and presentation and review of students’ design proposals. At the time, I knew of only one other example of an online studio, an architecture studio at Columbia University.

Visit the classroom and see the design proposals

Transforming the Urban Landscape Studio – 1997, University of Pennsylvania

This class was the second of three successive studios on transforming the urban landscape of Mill Creek in West Philadelphia. There were five assignments: a short sketch problem, a brief period of data collection, a spatial analysis and planning exercise, workshops with middle-school students, and a design project. Work from the previous year’s studio, archived online, was a resource.

1. Sketch problem. Once Mill Creek flowed through West Philadelphia. Now it is buried in a sewer, invisible to most people, but it continues to shape landscape and life. How can the buried river be revealed and rainwater celebrated so people feel and know the importance of these urban waters? See what one student proposed

2. Develop an online database to be used by the whole studio in successive projects. See the data assembled by the class

3. Develop and implement a series of workshop exercises in environmental design for eighth graders at Sulzberger Middle School.

4. Develop criteria for selecting a site for a miniature golf course for the Mill Creek neighborhood and use a digital geographic information system to analyze and identify suitable sites.

5. Design a miniature golf course that tells the natural and cultural history of the Mill Creek neighborhood and whose water hazards function as stormwater detention basins. See a proposal

Visit the classroom and see the design proposals

 

Transforming the Urban Landscape Studio – 1998, University of Pennsylvania

This class was the last of three successive studios on transforming the urban landscape of Mill Creek in West Philadelphia. There were six assignments: a short sketch problem, a brief period of data collection, workshops with middle-school students, two design projects, and a period of reflection on the semester as a whole. Work from the two previous years’ studios, archived online, was a resource.

1. Short sketch problem. Once Mill Creek flowed through West Philadelphia. Now it is buried in a sewer, invisible to most people, but it continues to shape landscape and life. How can the buried river be revealed and rainwater celebrated so people feel and know the importance of these urban waters?

2. Develop an online database to be used by the whole studio in successive projects. See the data assembled by the class

3. Develop and implement a series of workshop exercises on water, plants, and environmental design for eighth graders at Sulzberger Middle School.

4. Design an expansion to the water garden at Aspen Farms Community Garden, which has been used for two years by Sulzberger Middle School as an outdoor classroom.

5. Design a large wetland/water garden as a living laboratory and outdoor classroom for Sulzberger Middle School and as a detention basin to collect and cleanse stormwater runoff. Analyze the watershed around Sulzberger, select a suitable vacant lot for a site, and devise a plan for gathering stormwater runoff. The challenge: to design not just the place itself, but the processes which shape it: water flow, erosion, sedimentation, and plant growth, processes of constructing, cultivating, and learning.

6. Review and reflect on the work of the entire semester and design a series of presentations to various audiences.

Visit the classroom

 

The Power of Place – 1997-2000, University of Pennsylvania

This course focused on the Mill Creek neighborhood of West Philadelphia as a context for understanding urban history, environment, and community development.

Working with teachers and students at Sulzberger Middle School, undergraduate and graduate students researched community history, developed and taught a curriculum in local history and environmental design for eighth-graders, and devised designs for vacant land near the school.

The class met twice a week in 90-minute sessions, alternating between meeting at the university and at Sulzberger Middle School.

1997: Penn students gathered primary material (maps, photographs, newspaper articles, planning reports, census statistics) documenting the history of West Philadelphia and the Mill Creek neighborhood and wrote reports on five historical periods from the colonial to the present. They developed a series of workshops for the middle-school based on the use of primary documents and led a classroom of eighth graders on a journey of discovery, tracing the evolution of their neighborhood from forest and farm to inner city.

Read about the eight-graders’ visions for their neighborhood

1998: Using primary materials gathered by the previous year’s class, Penn students studied the evolution of the Mill Creek neighborhood from the pre-colonial landscape to the present-day and led workshops at Sulzberger Middle School to help eighth graders trace the past and envision the future of their neighborhood. Penn students assessed the feasibility of a miniature golf course for Mill Creek, creating a business plan, marketing plan, and designs for individual golf holes, each of which told the story of an episode in Mill Creek history.

Read about Mill Creek Mini-Golf

1999-2000: Using primary materials gathered by the 1997 class, Penn students studied the evolution of the Mill Creek neighborhood and led workshops at Sulzberger Middle School to help eighth graders trace the past and envision the future of their neighborhood. Each Penn student chose an historic event or place to commemorate and designed a monuments or memorial, then worked with the eighth-graders, who also chose an event or place and designed their own landmarks.

The course drew from the resources of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, an action-research program integrating research, teaching, and community service, and from the information generated by studios on Transforming the Urban Landscape (see above).

See LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT to read more about the West Philadelphia Landscape Project.

Visit the West Philadelphia Project Web site

Visit the classroom

Read an essay reflecting on this experience

Power of Place: Media Technology, Youth, and City Design and Development – 2001, MIT (11.948/4.285)

This workshop provided an introduction to urban environmental design and explored the potential of the Internet and the Web to transform public education and community development in inner-city neighborhoods. MIT graduate students in architecture and in civil engineering studied the environmental and community history of the Mill Creek watershed in West Philadelphia, visited Sulzberger Middle School, and devised designs for vacant land near the school.

This initial attempt to continue work with Sulzberger Middle School following my move from the University of Pennsylvania to MIT was an experiment in long-distance collaboration with middle-school teachers and students, substituting email correspondence for weekly face-to-face encounters, but that experiment failed.

Visit the class and see the students’ projects

Media Technology and City Design and Development – 2002, MIT (11.310/4.243)

This workshop explored the potential of media technology and the Web to enhance communication and transform city design and community development in inner-city neighborhoods. The class introduced a variety of methods for describing a place and its residents, for simulating actions and changes, for presenting visions of the future, and for engaging multiple actors in the process of envisioning change and guiding action. Students engaged two neighborhoods: the Mill Creek neighborhood of West Philadelphia and the Brightwood/Northend neighborhood of Springfield, Massachusetts.

The product of the semester was a new West Philadelphia Landscape Project Web site.

Visit the class

Compare the old WPLP Web site with the one produced by the class