PLAN 84: Article
Introducing The Center For Advanced Urbanism

Creating New Models for 21st Century Cities

This spring, the School of Architecture + Planning is launching a major new research center focused on the planning, design, construction and retrofitting of urban environments for the 21st century.

Under the leadership of center director Alexander D’Hooghe and research director Alan Berger – professors of architecture and of urban design and landscape architecture, respectively – the Center for Advanced Urbanism will coordinate collaborations among existing efforts in SA+P and with other MIT groups, as well as undertaking new projects at the Institute and with sponsors in practice.

The creation of this new enterprise is driven by dramatic and ongoing changes in global urbanization. More than half the world’s population currently lives in cities; by 2050 that number will have grown to two-thirds or more; and with more than 1000 megacities currently financed or under construction – often without the benefit of established design and planning procedures – the effectiveness of new urban forms and existing conventions are inadequate.

To develop better models for urban growth, the Center for Advanced Urbanism will undertake research to reassess established design and planning conventions, to embrace the latest technologies in the creation of city form and function and to integrate disparate realms of knowledge in the service of large-scale design and planning. To the greatest extent possible, the center will translate its research into built form on real-world projects through direct collaboration with sponsors in practice.

For the first two years, the center’s research program will focus on the particular challenges of infrastructure. Traditionally, infrastructure design has been based on a single function – a bridge for auto use, for instance, a lake and dam for electricity, a coastal barrier for storm surge protection. But two new trends will soon alter that model – the increasing intensity of development in our suburban regions, putting capacity pressures on existing infrastructures; and the need for a broader systemic view of infrastructure’s multiple roles.

Fundamental to the center’s approach is the notion that research will be most effective when it is focused on specific projects as elements of the larger system, with a constant eye toward how that project can provide extra services beyond its primary function. By limiting intervention to individual projects, rather than trying to rewire entire regional systems all at once, infrastructure investment should, over several growth cycles, result in a reconfigured and durable new urban order.

As part of its commitment to building a new collaborative approach to the challenges of urbanization, CAU will offer subjects to general student populations in all SA+P’s degree programs and will contribute to a new, one-year integrated studio experience in which students will work on a complex urban problem from the combined perspectives of architecture, ecology, energy, housing, landscape, policy, real estate and technology.

With its distinguished history in urbanism, reaching all the way back to the work of pioneer Kevin Lynch, the School of Architecture + Planning is well positioned to lead this effort, drawing faculty from both the department of architecture and of urban studies and planning. The participating SA+P labs include City Science, Locus-Lab, the Mass Transit Lab, the New Century Cities Lab, the P-REX Lab, the Platform for Permanent Modernity, the Resilient Cities Housing Initiative, the Housing and Community Lab and the Urban Risklab.

CAU is organized within, and generously supported by, the Dean’s Office of the School of Architecture + Planning. It is working on its own endowment through project-based giving and grants, and membership sponsorships. For additional information, please contact Prudence Robinson, Assistant Director, at pru@mit.edu. 617-324-4298.