The Yale School of Architecture might as well be called the Yale School of Urban Architecture. Over 80% of the American buildings studied in YSoA’s Introduction to Modern Architecture course last fall were located in one of the USA’s ten largest cities at the time of construction; on a global scale, this metropolitan trend was even more pronounced: buildings in Paris, London, Berlin, Hong Kong, Shanghai. Like at every architecture school, there are plenty of course offerings in Urban Design, Urban Planning, and Urban Studies. Courses in Rural Design, Planning, or Studies? Not so much. And though it has a nice ring to it, Suburban Studies hasn’t caught on either.
So what to make of this implicit association of architecture and urbanity?
By 2050, we’re told, 68% of the world population will be living in urban areas. Is this a license to continue focusing on architecture in cities, or is this an assumption that merits debate? Defining characteristics of our time - rapid densification, climate change, a global pandemic, economic disparity, and political unrest - equally impact both urban and not urban contexts. So, as designers, should our responses to these crises focus so heavily on the urban context? If not, how can we meaningfully extend our understanding and reach beyond the ‘polis’?
Does this association of architecture and urbanity imply a ‘universal ground,’ an idea that all contexts can be approached similarly? Do the habits we engrain in ourselves when regularly designing for urban areas transfer well to designing in ‘Not Urban’ geospatial contexts? To what degree do we consider the intersection of differing geographies and cultural systems in our thinking? How are the architectural elements we borrow from suburban, rural and ‘natural’ environments impacted by implicit political, social, cultural and environmental biases? As designers, how can we excavate the diversity of the ‘Not Urban,’ and be inspired by it in a manner that rises above copypasting, fetishization, and romanticization?