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The class is an examination of the physical and social form of cities. Cities achieve form over time, and while their temporal attributes are stressed in the class, it not a systematic account of the history of cities. Instead, lectures focus on the theories, both normative and functional, which have motivated and still inform the construction of cities.

Topics are categorized into three sections. The first examines the nature of city form theory through examples of traditional attempts to specify "goodness," recent attempts to explain how cities perform, and selected systematic claims on city form theory. The second section focuses on the modern city from its genesis in northern Europe in the late eighteenth–century and discusses in detail the inventions that created it and formed the basis of the contemporary city. The third section attempts to build on the previous sections by concentrating on current theory and practice, in particular on city form process, spatial and social structure, and form models.

Students are given required and background reading material for each session as well as an overall general bibliography.

Over 34 hours of video

26 lectures


11.001J / 4.250J Introduction to Urban Design and Development (for undergraduates), or
11.301J / 4.252J Introduction to Urban Design and Development (for graduates)


Julian Beinart's teaching is in the theory and practice of designing the form of cities. In 1980 He succeeded Kevin Lynch in teaching the major theory of city form subject which has now been offered continuously for over 50 years, His writing and work have been published widely in architecture and planning journals, and he has authored chapters in over half-a-dozen books. He has been Program Chairman (twice) and President of the International Design Conference in Aspen, one of the founders of ILAUD in Italy, American editor of Space and Society, and research director of the Mellon Foundation study of US architectural education. Since 1984 he has been principal of Cambridge International Design Associates, an architecture and urban design firm with projects in many parts of the world. Between 2001 and 2005 he was in partnership with Charles Correa on the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences building, the largest such research facility in the world, which opened in 2005.

Course content

  • Lecture 1: Introduction

  • Lecture 2: Normative Theory I: The City as Supernatural

  • Lecture 3: Normative Theory II: The City as Machine

  • Lecture 4: Normative Theory III: The City as Organism

  • Lecture 5: Descriptive and Functional Theory

  • Lecture 6: Dimensions, Patterns, Agreements, Structure, and Syntax

  • Lecture 7: The Early Cities of Capitalism

  • Lecture 8: Transformations I: London

  • Lecture 9: Transformations II: Paris

  • Lecture 10: Transformations III: Vienna and Barcelona

  • Lecture 11: Transformations IV: Chicago

  • Lecture 12: Transformations V: Panopticism, St. Petersburg and Berlin

  • Lecture 13: Utopianism as Social Reform and Built Form

  • Lecture 14: 20th Century Realizations: Russia and Great Britain

  • Lecture 15: City Form and Process

  • Lecture 16: Spatial & Social Structure I: Theory

  • Lecture 17: Spatial & Social Structure II: Bipolarity

  • Lecture 18: Spatial & Social Structure III: Colony & Post-colony

  • Lecture 19: Form Models I: Modern and Post-modern Urbanism

  • Lecture 20: Form Models II: Open-endedness and Prophecy

  • Lecture 21: Form Models III and IV: Rationality and Memory

  • Lecture 22: Cases I: Public and Private Domains

  • Lecture 23: Cases II: Suburbs and Periphery

  • Lecture 24: Cases III: Post-urbanism and Resource Conservation

  • Lecture 25: Cases IV: Hyper and Mega-urbanism

  • Lecture 26: Conclusion: Towards a Theory of City Form

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