Detroit: Finding the City in History

This course explores broad themes and issues in the history of urban form through the development of a single city, Detroit. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—and into the twenty-first—Detroit has been continuously at the forefront of a rigorous project to create an appropriate pictorial code aiming to consolidate the city’s varied and contested histories and bring some resolution to its presumably fractured identity. Formulating identity (of Detroit, of urban dwellers, of cities in general) in this context requires explicating meaning from beneath the rubble of the city’s history.  Accordingly, this course is conceived as a kind of evidential reconstruction—an effort to lift the burden of history from Detroit in an attempt to analyze the forms of the city by theorizing key relationships between urban narratives and urban places.

Over the course of the semester, we will build a thematic history of architecture, planning, and urban form in Detroit by considering the politics and aesthetics underlying a range of urban spatial conditions such as housing, transportation, infrastructure, public space, industry, parks, and neighborhoods. Through a material culture analysis of buildings, urban landscapes, and their representations, we will speculate on how critical insights derived from the historical analysis of places can inform the design and planning of future architectural and urban projects.

Winter 2016: University of Michigan.