Ecosystem Design of Urban Landscapes

Teaching Assistant(s)
Isabel Ochoa

The course is an introduction to ecosystems based urban design. Such a design approach begins from the bottom up. The shape of the city is founded in the analysis of the landscape forms underlying cities and the ecosystem processes leading to those forms. The course offers also an overview of: definitions of urban sustainability, the measure of the resilience of urban ecosystems, and the role and form of cities in the broader human shaped world of the Anthropocene.
Design today is in the middle of being re-shaped by ecosystem thinking. Approaches, like “resilience management”, are moving to create a more sensitive and complex framework for understanding how we are developing and building our cities and metropolitan regions. In turn, the science of the ecosystem approach itself is also being re-shaped by increasingly sophisticated cultural theories of emergent complexity, system self-organization, post-human thinkers, and the “hyper-objects and mesh theory of the philosophical analyses using object-oriented ontology.

As a big picture global context for this course there is the looming climate change crisis, ever more a fact and not a prediction, but more difficult to predict the details as well. Lastly, there is the Anthropocene, the human-driven situational framework of our new global ecological reality. We and our presence are everywhere, and our future design needs to reflect that extensive and interwoven mesh, far larger than any simple individual building solutions like more solar energy, better energy management, or better building skins.

The Arch 520 course outlines the concepts of environmental design useful for design and project work in urban places, from rooftops and laneways to vacant urban lands to the sweep of urban bioregions. Course focus will be on expanding the conventional theoretical and working methodologies of design to place the larger surrounding urban ecosystems themselves in a more central methodological position. Further, the course seeks to re-frame analysis and design in the terms of a more complex systems thinking, seeing the design work as part of a larger whole.

There will be a dual emphasis in the course on introducing both theory and methodology through selected readings, lectures, and seminar discussions. The course goals for students of Arch 520 will be on using the theory and analytical methodology of ecosystem design introduced in the course to prepare an analysis of their Design Studio site and design framework or to develop more complex underpinning and purpose to their thesis work. Such an analysis will be completed in a report outlining the layered reach at varied scales of the complex natural and cultural ecosystems of the landscapes or cityscapes of the student’s individual design project affect the final design of their building project in the studio. For 493 students, this is not a repetition of the Technical Report but an analysis reaching for a much broader framework.