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 Theory of City Form  posted by  duggu   on 1/22/2008  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Beinart, Julian, 4.241J Theory of City Form, Spring 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 08 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Piazza del Commune, Assisi.

An aerial view of the Piazza del Commune in Assisi, Italy. (Image courtesy of Prof. Julian Beinart.)

Course Highlights

This class on the theory of city form contains a complete set of lecture notes, and a vast set of readings on the subject.

Course Description

Theories about cities and the form that settlements should take will be discussed. Attempts will be made at a distinction between descriptive and normative theory, by examining examples of various theories of city form over time. The class will concentrate on the origins of the modern city and theories about its emerging form, including the transformation of the nineteenth-century city and its organization. It analyzes current issues of city form in relation to city making, social structure, and physical design. Case studies of several cities will be presented as examples of the theories discussed in the class.



This class has been taught at MIT for close to fifty years, first by Kevin Lynch until 1979, and subsequently by the present instructor. It now consists of 26 lectures, each of 1 1/2 hours, including about 20 minutes for visual material. Students are given required and background reading material for each class as well as an overall general bibliography. The class is regarded as an advanced class for which appropriate previous education is required for enrollment.

The class is an examination of the physical and social form of cities.  Cities achieve form over time, and while their temporal attributes are stressed in the class, the class is not a systematic account of the history of cities.  It focuses rather on the theories, both normative and functional, that have motivated and still inform the construction of cities,

The class material is divided into three sections.  The first examines the nature of city form theory through examples of traditional attempts to specify "goodness", recent attempts to explain how cities perform, and selected systematic claims on city form theory.  The second section focuses on the modern city from its genesis in northern Europe in the late 18th century and discusses in detail the inventions which created it and formed the basis of the contemporary city.  The third section attempts to build on the previous sections by concentrating on current theory and practice, in particular on city form process, spatial and social structure, and form models.

Students who have insufficient background in urban design or urban history must obtain the permission of the Instructor.

Course Outline

1. Introduction

Section One:  The Nature of City Form Theory

2. Three analogical examples: The cosmic model
3. The machine model
4. The organic model
5. Descriptive and functional theory
6. Some recent theoretical propositions

Section Two:  The Form of the Modern City

7. The early cities of capitalism
8. London
9. Paris
10. Vienna and Barcelona
11. Chicago
12. Organization and control
13. Utopianism
14. Partial realizations

Section Three:  Current theory and practice

15. City form and process
16. Spatial and social structure
17. Bi-polarity: Johannesburg / Soweto
18. Bi-polarity: San Diego / Tijuana, Delhi / New Delhi and Havana / Cuba
19. Modern and post-modern urbanism
20. Open-endedness and prophecy
21. Permanence and rationality
22. Memory
23. Public and private domains
24. Suburbs and periphery
25. Post-urbanism and resource conservation
26. Mega-urbanism

Conclusion: Towards a Theory of City Form


1 Introduction
Section One: The Nature of City Form Theory
2 Three Analogical Examples: The Cosmic Model
3 The Machine Model
4 The Organic Model
5 Descriptive and Functional Theory
6 Some Recent Theoretical Propositions
Section Two: The Form of the Modern City
7 The Early Cities of Capitalism
8 London
9 Paris
10 Vienna and Barcelona
11 Chicago
12 Organization and Control
13 Utopianism
14 Partial Realizations
Section Three: Current Theory and Practice
15 City Form and Process
16 Spatial and Social Structure
17 Bi-polarity: Johannesburg / Soweto
18 Bi-polarity: San Diego / Tijuana, Delhi / New Delhi and Havana / Cuba
19 Modern and Post-modern Urbanism
20 Open-endedness and Prophecy
21 Permanence and Rationality
22 Memory
23 Public and Private Domains
24 Suburbs and Periphery
25 Post-urbanism and Resource Conservation
26 Mega-urbanism   Tell A Friend