052-0827-23L  Seminar History and Theory of Urban Design: Architects on a Mission

SemesterAutumn Semester 2023
LecturersM. Rusak, T. Avermaete
Periodicityevery semester recurring course
Language of instructionEnglish
CommentFor students from the 3rd semester


052-0827-23 SSeminar History and Theory of Urban Design: Architects on a Mission
Permission from lecturers required for all students.
No course 26.10 (seminar week) and in the last two semester weeks (final critiques).
2 hrs
Thu15:45-17:30HCP E 47.3 »
M. Rusak, T. Avermaete

Catalogue data

AbstractThe course examines the emergence of the post-war “global planning experts” who travelled the world on “missions” to solve urban design problems. These projects became sites of encounter between different models of urbanisation and development. In the course, students will explore the many actors involved in the architecture of foreign aid and investigate the changing agency of the architects.
ObjectiveThe objective of this course is to obtain a general understanding of a wide range of multidisciplinary actors and stakeholders involved in international architectural work. Students moreover will developed the ability to identify and analyse a wide range of political, economic and social interests and rationales mobilised around the architecture of foreign aid and critically engage with these rationales. This will help to understand the complex processes engaged in the production of architecture through international organisations like the United Nations. Through their examinations, students will developed a critical and reflective perspective towards the paradigm of development and architecture of international aid organisations.
ContentThe course will explore the figure of a “global planning expert” that emerged in the post-war period, along with changes to planning practice brought by this transnational turn. During this time, architects converted to jet-setters who travelled the world on “missions” to solve complex problems posed by rapid urbanisation and mass migration. Practitioners like Otto Koenigsberger, Ernest Weissmann, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Constantinos Doxiadis, Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry were commissioned by the newly-independent states for large urban development projects initiated by the United Nations. Such projects required new interdisciplinary expertise, as planners and architects worked alongside politicians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists and engineers. And although these planning “missions” were arranged under the seeming neutrality of “technical assistance” by the United Nations, they relied on western ideas of modernisation and development, often at odds with local realities. Architects developed new knowledge as they adapted imported models to specific social and climate conditions and local material and logistical networks. Coupled with the discipline’s participatory turn, these projects delegated design agency to the users, profoundly shifting the role of the architect in the design process. Through three main modules—Projects, People and Knowledge—this course explores how these transnational design projects conceived under the idea of “development” redefined the position, agency and knowledge of the architects.

The course is based on weekly two-hour seminars, workshops, and group research work. The course is structured through three main study modules: Projects, People and Knowledge. Following the introductory session, the first module explores transnational urban development projects initiated under the Technical Assistance programme of the United Nations. To help students contextualise a case study they will examine throughout the semester, we will read a selection of texts that discuss how architecture and urban planning were mobilised as tools of development.

In the second part of the course, we will focus on concrete people behind these design projects. Students will investigate professional figures of transnational planners and architects and study their roles in the selected projects. Through archival and literature research, the students will also try to discover other less-known actors that were involved in these projects—politicians, UN officials, engineers and other experts. As a final task for this module, students will produce a map of concrete people behind their selected projects using an online mapping tool like Miro Mind Map.

The last part of the course will expand on the previous exercise and produce a knowledge map of different concepts and ideas related to international planning projects. As a final deliverable for this part of the course, students will expand the actor’s map with a layer of new architectural knowledge that emerged from these international planning projects.

Throughout the course, students will work on individual project diaries. This exercise tests the format of the architect’s field notes, popular in the context of international planning. In their personalised version of a project diary, students will be able to integrate hand drawings and notes based on their selected project’s research they have conducted during the semester. Students are encouraged to adapt different conflicting positions on the project by real or imaginary actors to showcase the complexity of transnational design practice and reflect on the changing body of architectural knowledge. The course will conclude with a small exhibition with individual presentations of these project diaries.
Subject-specific CompetenciesConcepts and Theoriesassessed
Techniques and Technologiesassessed
Method-specific CompetenciesAnalytical Competenciesassessed
Project Managementassessed
Social CompetenciesCommunicationassessed
Cooperation and Teamworkassessed
Leadership and Responsibilityassessed
Sensitivity to Diversityassessed
Personal CompetenciesCreative Thinkingassessed
Critical Thinkingassessed
Self-awareness and Self-reflection assessed
Self-direction and Self-management assessed

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits4 credits
ExaminersT. Avermaete, M. Rusak
Typegraded semester performance
Language of examinationEnglish
RepetitionRepetition only possible after re-enrolling for the course unit.
Additional information on mode of examinationThe final grade consists of:

- 25% active class participation, including feedback workshops and in-class reading discussions (continuous assessment by the tutors throughout the course, which counts for 25% of the final grade);

- 25% for the presentation of the selected “project and people” map, delivered at the end of the second module. The assignment will consist of a short group presentation and discussion of the project and actors involved (specific evaluation by the tutor in collaboration with feedback from the Guest Crits on the presentation day, which counts for 25% of the final grade);

- 50% final assignment consists of two project diary entries (two A5 spreads) and their presentation (10 min) discussing an aspect of their selected architectural project from two different perspectives. (Specific evaluation by the tutors in collaboration with feedback from the Guest Crits on the day of the Final Review, which counts for 50% of the final grade).

Learning materials

Main linkInformation
Only public learning materials are listed.


No information on groups available.


GeneralPermission from lecturers required for all students
Places18 at the most
Waiting listuntil 25.09.2023

Offered in

Architecture BachelorHistory and Theory of ArchitectureWInformation