University of Chicago Big Ideas Generator


Big Question: Designing Urbanism

University of Chicago Big Questions

Principal Investigator: Bill Brown, English; Christine Mehring, Art History

Funding Type: Workshop

Focus Area: Complexity

Big Idea: How can the ambitions of urban design most productively respond to competing urgencies—environmental, social, economic—and the complex systems from which those urgencies derive?  Understanding “the urban” to be a coalescence of material and cultural relations, design thinking increasingly partners with other expertise, yet the professional field initially emerged to counter the post-war impact of social research, planning, and policy—as an effort to consider the configuration of built space architecturally and artistically—and residues of that history often leave disciplinary boundaries intact. Can design pedagogy apprehend urban form in an expanded field, where questions of design detail and spatial organization are embedded in the complexities of remediation, conservation, demographic flux, public health, and technological development? Can it nonetheless negotiate a distinct purchase on formal questions about built space and convey the significance of those questions cogently? A BIG grant would fund a workshop where designers assemble with scholars from a range of urban research fields to refine such questions as the first step toward imagining a future for urban design at the University of Chicago—at a moment when the intelligent design of urban space is more critical than ever to the wellbeing of an increasingly urbanized human population.

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