Theory of City Form

Course Description

This course covers theories about the form that settlements should take and attempts a distinction between descriptive and normative theory by examining examples of various theories of city form over time. Case studies will highlight the origins of the modern city and theories about its emerging form, including the transformation of the nineteenth-century city and its organization. Through examples and historical context, current issues of city form in relation to city-making, social structure, and physical design will also be discussed and analyzed.

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.

Copyright Information

Julian Beinart. 4.241J Theory of City Form, Spring 2013. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA
Theory of City Form
Piazza del Commune in Assisi, Italy
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Video Lectures & Study Materials

Visit the official course website for more study materials:

# Lecture Play Lecture
1 Introduction Play Video
2 Normative Theory I: The City as Supernatural Play Video
3 Normative Theory II: The City as Machine Play Video
4 Normative Theory III: The City as Organism Play Video
5 Descriptive and Functional Theory Play Video
6 Dimensions, Patterns, Agreements, Structure, and Syntax Play Video
7 The Early Cities of Capitalism Play Video
8 Transformations I: London Play Video
9 Transformations II: Paris Play Video
10 Transformations III: Vienna and Barcelona Play Video
11 Transformations IV: Chicago Play Video
12 Transformations V: Panopticism, St. Petersburg and Berlin Play Video
13 Utopianism as Social Reform and Built Form Play Video
14 20th Century Realizations: Russia and Great Britain Play Video
15 City Form and Process Play Video
16 Spatial & Social Structure I: Theory Play Video
17 Spatial & Social Structure II: Bipolarity Play Video
18 Spatial & Social Structure III: Colony & Post-colony Play Video
19 Form Models I: Modern and Post-modern Urbanism Play Video
20 Form Models II: Open-endedness and Prophecy Play Video
21 Form Models III and IV: Rationality and Memory Play Video
22 Cases I: Public and Private Domains Play Video
23 Cases II: Suburbs and Periphery Play Video
24 Cases III: Post-urbanism and Resource Conservation Play Video
25 Cases IV: Hyper and Mega-urbanism Play Video
26 Conclusion: Towards a Theory of City Form Play Video
27 Teaching 4.241J/11.330J: Embracing Complexities of Urbanism Play Video


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