Carnegie Mellon University
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Urban Design

Language of the City


Angela Chi, a fifth-year undergrad in Carnegie Mellon's School of Architecture, ducked out of the damp and chilly night air and into the museum entrance. She joined a standing-room-only crowd to watch Professor Emeritus David Lewis accept the Athena medal.

The award is given for a lifetime of achievement in urbanism by the Congress of the New Urbanism.

Lewis came to then-Carnegie Tech in 1963 to launch his innovative, hands-on urban design program. He was committed to the larger purpose of connecting with a city and its unique heritage. He believed in teamwork.

Lewis stated in his acceptance speech, "The essence of urban design is teamwork ... I mean the citizens, to whom all cities rightfully belong ... Buildings do not exist in a vacuum. Every city has its own language."

Urban design is currently one of the School of Architecture's five key areas of focus, and its centerpiece is the Urban Laboratory course that Lewis created and re-established in 1990.

The Urban Lab is currently a required fifth-year course — a unique component for an undergraduate architecture program. The course gives students their first taste of the bigger picture.

Assistant Professor Jonathan Kline explained, "We have a teaching goal — to get students to think about bigger forces at work in the built environment, like transportation, land uses, natural systems and politics, and to think about all the different forces affecting a neighborhood."

Urban design is an interdisciplinary focus, and the coursework involves tackling real-world issues facing existing local communities.

Kline added, "Students work with the real community, trying to service and help ... and answer to real people."

Chi recently completed her Urban Lab semester working in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood area. She loved working with community members, saying, "It's the first time we worked with real clients. I think that was what made most of us so excited about the studio. For me, it was the best part."

The goal of enlarging the students' perspective also worked. Chi added, "It was a different scope and scale. I really enjoyed it — the whole process, the big picture, a different way of thinking."

Related Links: Congress of New Urbanism: Lewis  |  School of Architecture  |  Carnegie Mellon: Lewis  |  Remaking Cities Institute

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