Selected Undergraduate Design Studio Projects--Design IV, Fall 2012

Fall 2012

Professors Susannah Drake, Sean Sculley & Lydia Xynogala

Nature of Urbanity: A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time, a Course of Action

This studio takes its name from the 1994 compilation of essays by John Brinkerhoff Jackson entitled “A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time.” Jackson posits that in our ever evolving urban, industrial and post-industrial environments there is an increased importance of ritual, routine, and schedule over the creation of more permanent place making. This idea, while somewhat reductive, is useful because it calls in to question the nature of urbanity.

At a time when the impacts of climate change necessitate a radical rethinking of the role of landscape ecology and infrastructure within the city, the qualities of human experience cannot be lost. Historically cities developed as places of commerce, removed from their agrarian surroundings where goods and services were exchanged. Location related to power, protection and resources. Geography played a critical role in the site, spatial definition and form of cities.The studio is an introduction to the relationship between urban design and the larger scale landscape systems that shaped them. Truly interdisciplinary design thinking requires consideration of the nuances of how scale and operation impact process, product and experience. Architecture, landscape architecture and urban design disciplines may suggest particular formal and material characteristics. Regional geography defined by physical characteristics such as topography, climate, soils, water flow, bathymetry, geology developed over thousands (in some cases millions) of years. An urban transportation system or economic development plan may suggest a logic to maximize efficiency in movement of people and goods. At the scale of a building, the mediation between the social and physical context that occurs through form, space and materials can define human experience.

The studio explores opportunities to transform the experience of the city by rethinking how increased climate change impacts might help us design a reflexive urban design strategy that reflects cultural, economic, political, formal, and ecological forces. The New York City Commissioners Plan of 1811 was radical in it’s rethinking of the nature of the city: it was designed to maximize efficiency in economic and traditional urban terms. Perhaps we can consider an equivalent rethinking of the nature of the city in the age of climate change.




  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.