The Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and LSA have been awarded $1.3 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a major initiative on the synergies between humanities research and the design of cities.
The program, “Egalitarianism and the Contemporary Metropolis,” will run for four and a half years and include symposia, new lecture and seminar courses, post-graduate research fellowships, public exhibitions and a publication showcasing new research on Mexico City, Detroit and Rio de Janeiro.
It will engage scholars and designers from architecture and urban design, philosophy, art history, Latin American and American studies, Afroamerican and African studies, history and urban planning.
Coordinators of the interdisciplinary program are Milton S. F. Curry, associate dean of the Taubman College, and Derek B. Collins, LSA dean of humanities.
Participating faculty include Elizabeth Anderson, John Dewey Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Philosophy; Matthew Biro, chair of the Department of History of Art; and Sidonie Smith, director of the Institute for the Humanities.
The intellectual goals of the program center on how idealized notions of egalitarianism are or are not being realized in urban contexts globally, Curry says.
“The concepts of egalitarianism and democracy are not universal and encounter market economies, slavery, colonialism, capitalism and other societal forms of organization that complicate its most idealized goals,” he says.
“As the focus has shifted from nations to cities — global cities, megacities, post-industrial cities and informal cities — new questions have emerged about whether the metropolis is governable and whether the legacy versions of governance are inhibiting social progress on the part of individuals and polities.”
“By bringing together the depth of humanities scholarship with the speculative knowledge of design, the Mellon grant represents a major step forward in reframing how we think about urbanism, and in particular about the relationship between the shape of the contemporary metropolis and social inequity,” says Monica Ponce de Leon, dean of Taubman College.
“The complex issues confronting the cities and metropolitan regions of today require interdisciplinary collaborations as a means of constructing alternatives for the future,” Ponce de Leon says. “At the University of Michigan the humanities are rich with exceptional expertise in the very subjects at the heart of the metropolis while at Taubman College design thinking provides a unique framework to understand the forces that give shape to urban environments.
“We are delighted to be partnering with LSA on this initiative; our collaboration will provide a new standard for how to think critically about our cities and explore innovative urban models. This is particularly important if we are going to address the deep societal disparities exposed and enabled in cities across the globe. “
The program will begin during the winter 2014 term with an inaugural symposium titled, “Egalitarianism and the Contemporary Metropolis: Taking Stock,” which is currently scheduled for May. It will focus on how to create equal and more just societies.
The symposium will also address new and emerging directions in egalitarian research and how to connect the architecture, urban design and humanities disciplines. U-M faculty research related to urbanism in the Detroit and in Latin American regions, which are critical areas of focus to the grant, will also be highlighted.
“Architecture and urban design must incorporate the humanities into the design process in order to create better and more livable cities and to anticipate the future vocabulary of urbanism,” says Curry, who also directs the master of urban design degree program at Taubman College.
As the program develops, courses and fellowships focusing on egalitarianism and urbanism will provide a lasting impact on the U-M community, Collins says.
“I hope this grant provides an opportunity to forge new scholarly relationships between the humanities and urban design. Humanities scholars deeply and critically understand the values that attend to cities and their inhabitants, but they do not by profession design cities, neighborhoods, and built environments,” Collins says. “The possibilities for mutual reflection and collaboration herein this program and looking toward the future are what excite me about this project.”
Courses will examine the complexity of egalitarianism in post-industrial and Latin American urban contexts and challenge students from design and humanities disciplines to exchange pedagogical approaches to urban problems, which may yield novel ways to speculate about a city’s future prospects, according to Collins.
Competitive post-graduate fellowships will allow participants the opportunity to pursue research in the areas of egalitarianism, urbanism and architectural design, and humanities and the city.
“Egalitarianism remains a useful framework for examining the contemporary metropolis because it contains a theory of value based on both the inherent equality of individuals and the concept of a fair distribution of resources to individuals,” Collins says. “Egalitarianism is thus a more ample construct through which to view the challenges and opportunities of today’s modern metropolitan regions, because it does not assume a market-based or capitalist-driven imperative.”
Susan Gelman, interim dean of LSA, said the interdisciplinary program will allow U-M scholars to bring cutting edge research in humanities, history and philosophy as well as architecture and urban design to the study of some of the world’s most pressing problems.
“Students will have a unique opportunity to study the future of urbanism through an interdisciplinary lens, which will help them understand the complex nature of problems facing urban communities,” Gelman says. “It will also allow them to work with some of U-M’s greatest teachers on solutions to these problems.”
Organizations involved in the grant will include LSA’s Institute for the Humanities, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and institutions in Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City.
As part of its mission to advance meaningful work in the humanities and the arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2012 launched an initiative, “Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities,” to support scholarship and higher education at the intersection of architecture and the humanities.