This is a graduate course at the School of Architecture of Carnegie Mellon University designed by Eleni Katrini. The course will present the key principles of urban ecology, with a focus on those that are especially relevant to urban design. It will address the causes and consequences of biological patterns and processes in urban environments and illustrate how ecological principles can be used in planning and design projects. The course will introduce ways to examine the implications of urban design decisions on the health and sustainability of urban habitats. Topics in the course include the concept of urban ecosystems, ecosystem functions in cities, climate change, natural processes and regenerative cycles.
Urban ecology is the study of the processes, systems and relations between living organisms that take place within an urban environment. As a recent field of study, urban ecology explores cities and studies them as ecosystems at an era of human overpopulation. In a time where 54% of the global population lives in urban settlements, it is important to understand how large urban areas work, how humans and societies interact with natural systems and among themselves.
There is a need to shift from the traditional practice of ecology as a study of stability and certainty in natural ecosystems to exploring dynamic, complex urban ecosystems demanding adaptability and resilience. Urban ecosystems do not only consist of a set of natural processes and components necessary for humans and other living organisms to coexist, but they are deeply influenced by a set of non-physical parameters related to cultural, political and economic trends.
The course will be lecture and discussion based and will take place twice a week. There will be selected readings, case studies, guest lectures and student-led, instructor-facilitated discussions every week. Students will be asked to formulate your own critical reviews on readings and case studies throughout the course and to present them in oral, written and graphic formats. The case studies will be deeply explored and then tested in a different context on the first half of the semester. The material produced by the students will be posted on this online blog that will be an ongoing documentation of the class. At the end of the semester the students will produce a critical paper on urban ecologies and the role of designers that they will present and discuss in the classroom in a round table set up.
The course will be structured around the following areas:
01 | Emerging Framework of Urban Ecology
In the beginning of the course we will explore the general context of Urban Ecology and how it has evolved over time. We will develop a general understanding of the urban ecosystems’ components and explore emergent ecological symptoms of urbanization. We will discuss about material and energy flows in the city in order to uncover how urban systems work and what urban metabolism is.
03 | Exploration of Systems + Infrastructure
From the general context of urban ecosystems we will move down to the specific parts and explore the essential systems of large urban areas that support human activity. The lectures will be focused on four main areas:
[a. Food, b. Water, c. Waste, d. Energy]. The four areas will be investigated through a series of readings on global issues and study of localized solutions through specific examples and case studies. We will study different systems and you will be asked to understand, communicate and draw how the systems work, as well as explore how they would function in a different setup.
02 | Systems Integration + Resilience of Urban Ecosystems
After building an understanding of the urban components, we will weave them back together to form and comprehend the greater urban context. Through an Urban Systems project that you will be developing throughout the semester, you will be asked to understand how different sustainable urban systems can be synthesized in a different context. Through readings and discussions, we will better understand the complexity of urban ecosystems and investigate how human and natural systems transform and adapt to new situations. Issues of risk and resiliency will be considered and studied within a framework of systems thinking.
04 | Human, Cultural, Political + Economic Factors
Urban ecosystems do not only consist of their physical components, but they are immensely affected and transformed by human, cultural, climate, political and economic processes. In this section we will explore the correlation between the urban ecosystems and such greater and global trends through a series of current and historic cases studies.
05 | Practice + The role of Designers
In this last section we will discuss the role of urban designers, planners and architects within such complex urban ecosystems. How has the practice of designers changed to address those emerging trends? How should it change projecting towards the future of our cities? How can practices of sustainability like the ones studied in the first part of the semester be used not as prescriptive methods but as transformative design tools? At the end of this section you will have to develop a reflection paper and discuss about it in a round table format.