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Part I (2013-2019)

Part I (2013-2019)

Part I of The Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis was awarded in 2013 ($1.3million) by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This first project sought to examine the contemporary metropolis through the framework of egalitarianism, where a market-based or capitalist-driven imperative is not assumed, but rather a theory of value is based upon the inherent equality of individuals, and on some notion of a fair distribution of resources.

Egalitarianism, however, is a contested ideal, ranging from notions of equality of opportunity to equality of outcome, spawning notions such as “distributive justice” and “democratic equality.” Even with renewed interest in urbanization and social justice, the role of egalitarian theory and practice must be engaged further to produce an “urban egalitarianism,” which could conceptually insist upon corrective measures that attempt to provide equality to those that have been historically marginalized by race, class, gender, sexual identity, and other markers of ‘otherness.’ It is through this conceptual theme that various project activities were governed across three different site locations: metropolitan Detroit, Mexico City DF, and Rio de Janeiro. 

This transnational engagement on issues of urbanization was used to bring together project collaborators across multiple disciplines, including architects/urban designers and humanist scholars, to explore, challenge, and develop traditional disciplinary practices. Utilizing project activities, participants sought to develop new ways of relating academic discourse to public constituencies through forms of expression that extend beyond what would normally be produced. By engaging scholars and designers on questions of privatization, justice, and egalitarian ideals, there is the potential to alter existing ways of working within the academy, and redefine the academic site as such.

The project resulted in the following activities and outcomes:

Symposia and Colloquia

Project symposia provided a platform for eminent designers and humanists to exchange ideas in conversational roundtable formats, as well as to share their observations with a broader public and academic community. Symposia were held physically in Ann Arbor/Detroit, and then live-streamed to the other two cities:

Symposium 1 (11 April 2015) Ann Arbor/Detroit: The Egalitarian Metropolis
Symposium 2 (12 March 2016) Ann Arbor/Detroit - The Egalitarian Metropolis: Common(s) Sense City

A number of research colloquia were also held to provide a forum for faculty, fellows, and students to discuss research in progress.

Public Exhibitions

A series of public exhibitions were held in Ann Arbor/Detroit, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro to showcase the research and creative work from project participants and collaborators. Through smaller scale installations (2016) and major exhibitions (2017-2018), project themes were explored from the perspectives of designers and humanists working in tandem and parallel.

2016: Installations
Detroit_Focus on Speculative Urban and Metropolitan Visions
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; U-M Taubman College galleries (Michigan Research Studio, Detroit / Liberty Research Annex Gallery / Taubman College Gallery)

2017: Major Exhibition
Mexico City_Focus on Architecture, Urban Design, Humanities

2018: Major Exhibition
Rio de Janeiro_Focus on MultiChannel and Serial Video and Film

2019: Exhibition
Detroit_Mapping the Egalitarian Metropolis: Spaces of Hope
Michigan Research Studio, Detroit


The Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis is an academic and research program focused on architecture, urbanism and humanities research. The program enables theory and practice to inform and be informed by questions of social justice, social movements, and transformative creative arts movements—both past and present. The emphasis on cities and their specificity focus humanists on linking theories of human interaction and collective life with the physical space of a city and its histories. The increased expertise in urbanism allows for humanists to better understand the market forces and economic constraints informing design decisions that directly affect human life. Designers benefit from direct engagement with humanities scholarship that can more amply critique the structural inequalities driven by, for example, racial or socio-economic disparities (arising out of ideological biases) that have been impediments to urban development.

Fellows are expected to pursue independent research projects at the intersection of architecture, urbanism and the humanities, with particular emphasis on the role of egalitarianism in shaping metropolitan regions. Through faculty mentorship, colloquia, and symposia, Fellows will join an intellectual community in which work in progress is shared and interrogated by a community of designers and scholars. 

Design Fellows will teach two design studios per term in the ArcPrep Program - a semester-long architecture enrichment program for high school juniors in the metro Detroit area. Each Fellow will receive work space at the Michigan Research Studio, a 3,700sf space in midtown Detroit. Fellows are encouraged to seek support from external agencies if it appears that their scholarly and creative work will be enhanced by such grants. At the end of each fellowship year, Fellows are required to submit a written report on their activities and are encouraged to present their work to a public audience.

Humanities Fellows will teach three seminar/discussion sections per year. These sections may be affiliated with a lecture course on the Program themes and/or large seminar courses focused on aspects of post-industrial and megacity issues. Each Fellow will receive work space at the University of Michigan. Fellows are encouraged to seek support from external agencies if it appears that their scholarly and creative work will be enhanced by such grants. At the end of each fellowship year, Fellows are required to submit a written report on their activities and are encouraged to present their work to a public audience.  

Michigan-Mellon Fellowships provided recent graduates with research mentorship and teaching experience. The former list of Fellows can be found below:

Sara Timberlake
Young-Tack Oh
Nora Krinitsky
Manuel Shvartzberg Carrió

Julie Pedtke
Suzanne Lettieri
Julia Yezbick
Austin McCoy

Suzanne Lettieri
Paulina Reyes
Michael Stauch
Austin McCoy

Missy Ablin
Paulina Reyes
Michael Stauch
Michael McCulloch

Missy Ablin
Allen Gillers
Nathan Holmes
Corina Kesler


As part of The Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis program, a number of experimental courses exploring the program themes were taught at the University of Michigan. The courses were co-taught by humanities and design-based faculty, combining these different perspectives to better understand the complexity of urban issues in varying contexts. Travel stipends were also provided to allow for students and faculty to have first-hand experience of specific sites and contexts in Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Detroit.

In addition to these experimental courses, a new program—called ArcPrep—was started in 2015 to introduce Detroit public high school junior students to the multi-faceted discipline of architecture. The program leads students through an immersive, semester-long college preparatory course on architecture, urbanism, and integrated design studio practices. The program has brought increased access and knowledge of design careers to a more diverse student body.

Principal Investigators

Milton S. F. Curry, Associate Professor of Architecture, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Strategic Initiatives; U-M Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning
Derek B. Collins, Professor of Classical Studies, Associate Dean for the Humanities; U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Robert Fishman, Ph.D., Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning; U-M Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning

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