Urban Design Studio: Providence

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 4.163J (Spring 2005)
Course Title: Urban Design Studio: Providence
Course Level: Graduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
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Department: Architecture
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Michael Dennis
Prof. Greg Morrow
Course Introduction:
Syllabus Course Description

"For us, architecture is not an isolated private statement. Rather, it is at once a public (urban) act and a reflection of our understanding of the world at any given moment: i.e., what it might be. Its formal order both reflects and promotes plausible ideas of social, philosophical and urban order. Architecture is an art to be sure, but it is a social art, an urban art since we teach what we believe; we design projects not to explore style, but to explore what we consider to be fundamental to architecture: namely, issues of space, urbanism, and meaning. Today, that involves exploring the elusive interface between architecture and urbanism." - Michael Dennis, "Notes on the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns," 30 March 2004.

This studio explores the interface between architecture and urban design through projects focused on the design of housing and public space in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence has undergone a radical transformation from a city with little economic base to a city growing around its vibrant arts and culture community and has for this reason been called the "Renaissance City". Despite recent successes, however, Providence has been unable to attract residents to its downtown to any great extent (Downcity), and this lack of a stable residential downtown population has stalled the city's growth.

Providence's last official plan covered the years 2000-2005. As the end of its scope nears, now is an opportune time to re-examine the city's downtown development in anticipation of the new building cycle and in conjunction with the drafting of the next official plan. We will work with the City of Providence, local housing agencies such as the Providence Neighborhood Housing Corporation, and local community interests and developers to understand the needs and demands for urban housing in downtown Providence. Due to its close proximity to Boston, the studio will travel to Providence on several occasions to talk with participants and to investigate the projects sites.

The studio will not focus on housing alone, however. Instead, it will operate on the premise that public spaces are important to the livability of a city, especially a city like Providence whose economic base is arts and culture. The public realm quite literally provides the platform for its arts and culture to exist and adds to the desirability of its inhabitants. Housing design is necessary not only to bring people, but also to literally give shape to the public spaces of the city. In this studio, we explore both in the hopes of helping Providence continue its renaissance.