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Michigan-Mellon Project Courses

Experimental Courses explore political philosophy and egalitarianism; architectural and urban histories and theories; and cultural theory; urban economics and social inequality; aspects of egalitarianism, post-industrial cities in the United States, and/or megacities of South America. The courses combine humanities and design-based perspectives and open up new ground in addressing the complexity of urban issues in varying contexts. Faculty from a design and humanities perspective co-teach each course and travel stipends are provided to allow for students and faculty to have first-hand experience with specific sites and contexts in Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and Detroit.

Courses 2016 - 2017


Tsz Yan Ng (assistant professor of architecture, University of Michigan)
Joan Kee (associate professor of the history of art, University of Michigan)

Long contested in architectural and artistic discourse, the domestic space of the single-family home has been addressed as a shaper of social habits, cultural identity, and, more recently, as the driver of economic stability. In Detroit (as well as in other post-industrial cities), a recent phenomenon has emerged where such single-family homes – sold cheaply at auction – are rescued and transformed into artist residencies. Operated and managed by artists, these residencies constitute a form of social practice. Collectively, these residencies have affected not only the physical landscape of the city, but also have facilitated social interaction opposite that suggested by private residences. What was once formerly private is now made public. Partnering with Popps Packing, a non-profit group that has one of the longest running residency programs in Detroit, our collaboration focuses on their future planning of the Back Forty, the overgrown, unused alleyway behind their residency. The overall intention of this course was to integrate social research with design-based initiative as a unique model of hands-on engagement with communities, with a full-scale design-built experience as a comprehensive pedagogy.


Anya Sirota (assistant professor of architecture, University of Michigan)
Anne Choike (clinical fellow of law, University of Michigan)

Focusing on the subjects of ownership and exclusion that underlie measures of spatial equity in the city, this experimental seminar and travel studio surveyed historic and contemporary precedents where collective ownership has emerged from intended, unintended, regulatory, and activist patterns of organization. Site visits were orchestrated in Detroit then Rio de Janeiro – offering a rich comparative structure between urban dispersal and density. A multi-faceted and complex urban place and experience is common to both cities, providing rich material to draw connections and learn lessons in furtherance of understanding the full range of possibility of ownership through comparative issues such as density, culture, and institutions. The course culminated in the development of project proposals for a community organization in Detroit, where students were challenged to critically apply their knowledge and experiences abroad towards a radical reconceptualization of property ownership beyond currently known models.

Courses 2014 - 2015


Mitch McEwen (assistant professor of architecture, University of Michigan)
Ana Paula Pimentel Walker (assistant professor of urban planning, University of Michigan)

Capoeira, an AfroBrazilian art, and one of the more spectacular and collective forms of everyday life practices in Rio and Sao Paulo, serves as the collective practice to investigate these overlaps and shapes the programmatic focus of the studio. For the first part of the course, the research site is the downtown port area of Rio, adjacent to the proposed Museu do Amanha designed by Santiago Calatrava. For the second part, the site is the area around the Jurere Sports Center in Sao Paulo. In both of these locations, the studio participants will meet with social activists, architects, artists, medical providers, and nonprofit leaders and visit important architectural projects and relevant sites to the topic of egalitarianism and the metropolis.