Transverse Traveler

Self + city:  Urban housing / mixed use

The city is perhaps the richest, most complex artifact of human culture; it is also a living organism.   For thousands of years, man has both imagined Utopian cities and built real cities.  In order to survive, both the vision and the reality have had to adapt and change. Throughout this evolution, an enduring quality of cities has been their role as what Michael Sorkin calls “juxtaposition engines,” bringing diverse groups of people face to face and developing a rich mix of programs in time and space.  The driving force of cities, he suggests, arises from the potential of chance encounters and the force of collective energy. These days, that energy might be social, economic, political and environmental, with increased urban density increasingly being seen as a key to ecological sustainability.

Because of its collective character, one of the challenges of the city is the balance between the public and private realms, an issue that becomes central in the design of urban housing.

Cities are not like suburbs, only denser. They differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of these is that cities are, by definition, full of strangers.”

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

“Cities are juxtaposition engines and owe their existence to complex patterns of human contact.  To be either democratic or creative, a city must, like the [Greek] agora, offer places for both convenient and accidental encounters.  This is not merely a consideration of delight but intrinsic to the working of democracy.  Democracy’s logic is to create a society which is perpetually unstable, always in becoming, always open to change.  A city is an instrument for setting the odds …on the accidental likelihood of crossing paths.”

Michael Sorkin, Traffic in Democracy

This semester focuses on the urban dwelling as a threshold between self and society, between the local and the global, and between nature and culture.  Instead of thinking of these conditions as opposites, they can be understood as symbiotic states of being whose relationship, or balance, changes at different scales – from room to dwelling, building, neighborhood, city and natural environment.


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