Programme Introduction

The city in the twenty-first century is witness to fundamental changes in its form, organisation and structure, affected by relentless urbanisation or shrinkage. The city is in political, social and economic crisis. The multi-scalar complexity of contemporary cities can no longer be comprehended in isolation, and the separation of planning, urban design and architecture has become untenable. This challenges conventional practices and theories of architecture and urbanism.

Since the nineteenth century, cities and their architecture have been predominantly reasoned through positivist concepts of scientific urbanism and its dialectics. An ideology still upheld in its recent disguise of ecology, sustainability and economy—functionalist, modernist agendas set out to define the city as an empirical problem to which a technical solution can be found. Instead, Projective Cities sees the contemporary task for urban thinkers and practitioners alike to radically reconceptualise the city and our roles.

In response, Projective Cities provides a forum for speculation on the contemporary city  and provides a new type of practice-led and interdisciplinary research training that prepares students for independent research and practice through a rigorous methodological framework. The programme offers an alternative to a common separation between design or theory programmes that focus on just one form of reasoning or media. Instead, it aims to integrate design and written work, proposing a new form of design research and dissertation project in which critical writing and projective design are developed as concurrent and complementary pieces of evidence that ground the arguments of a research enquiry.

Projective Cities is thus neither conceived as a conventional architectural design programme nor a typical urban design programme, nor a standard history and theory programme, but a framework for interdisciplinary research. Being a research based programme, the final dissertation accounts for 60% of a student’s work. The research is dedicated to a systematic analysis of, design experimentation for, theoretical speculation on, and critical writing about contemporary cities. At the core of its research enquiries are multi-scalar and interdisciplinary questions arising at the intersection of architecture, urban design, and planning, but also the possibilities between design research and traditional modes of research. The programme’s aim is to challenge existing disciplinary boundaries and contribute to new architectural practices.

Projective Cities specifically raises the question of what kind of project and research arises from architectural urbanism and its interdisciplinarity. It sets out to define the status and methods of design research. This is understood both as an intellectual problem, exploring the relationship between theory and design for knowledge production and the discipline, as well as a practical problem, of the way that design research can affect practice. Projective Cities hereby recognises architecture and the city as a collective form of knowledge. It is therefore particularly interested in studies of governance as a spatial design problem through the conception and formation of the city within diverse political, economic, social, and cultural contexts. Its objective is to respond to contemporary political, social, economic crisis and challenges by rethinking what ‘political’ means in terms of spatial design. In addition, Projective Cities proposes design as a precondition to the conception, realisation and subversion of urban plans.

The ambitions of Projective Cities are framed by some the following methodological propositions through which its research is clarified:

  • That architectural and urban design is intelligible as formal and theoretical products of disciplinary activity as well as the collective outcome of socio-political forces.
  • That the urban plan and its cultural, social, political, historical and economic contexts are defined by design operative at different scales.
  • That disciplinary frameworks to understand and project the synthesis of the city and its architecture are necessary, and include alternative but complementary practices of formal and conceptual thinking, which are in historical terms defined as a distinction between theory and history or typal and typological reasoning. (However type and typology are never understood as purely formal symbolisations but rather through a conceptual or diagrammatic mode of thinking in which reason acquires its critical and conjectural structure.)
  • That the contemporary city can be read as an architectural project and the city as a projection of the possibilities of architecture, with this interrelationship defining collective ideas of the city that can be discovered, analysed and proposed.
  • That design and research activities are inseparable in architecture and urbanism, and that knowledge production (theory) and formal production (practice) are methodologically linked.

Architecture and urbanism are symbiotic modes of enquiry driven by relevance and agency within a field and not novelty for their own sake. This field is defined in terms of a series of distinct diagrams that are always social and spatial.

Projective Cities invites graduates and practitioners with a desire to develop a substantial and original piece of individual research. It seeks exceptional thinkers, gifted designers, and critical writers with an interest in the future of our cities. In return, the programme prepares students for independent research through its taught programme and supports their enquiries by providing supervision and a framework of rigorous design and research methodologies.

MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design Projective Cities Architectural Association Graduate School | London

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