Princeton - Course Info


Cities, Social Change, and the Fight for Sustainability: 1850- 2017
Esther da Costa Meyer (Ph.D Yale, 1987)
Professor of Architectural History, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University

All Classes are held between 7:00 - 8:30 pm at "The D&R Greenway," Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, off of Rosedale Road, Princeton, NJ 08540 

Yale Alumni College, Princeton NJ
Spring 2017

Thursday, March 16

Thursday, March 30

Thursday, April 6

Thursday, April 13

Thursday, April 20

Thursday, April 27


Course Description:

Many of the problems we are facing around the world today – immigration and/or refugee crises, water shortage on one hand, and rising water on the other, securitization, urban warfare – are not in fact new. The Industrial Revolution had already presented cities with major challenges. The need to improve circulation of people and merchandise required overhauling the old historic centers and creating a new networks of broad streets and squares. These challenges, however, rarely came isolated but were bound up with one another. Public works, for instance, attracted large numbers of workers, many of them foreign immigrants, thus escalating population densities and introducing new infrastructural challenges, such as the need for increased water supply and proper sewerage.

Focusing mainly (though not exclusively) on three global cities – Paris, Shanghai, and Havana – this course follows these threads from the mid nineteenth century to the present day, anatomizing these cities as they change according to old evolving problems or new ones caused by the social, economic, cultural, or environmental aspects of globalization. This will bring us to the present as we face the impact of connectivity, climate change, and the need for sustainable solutions in architecture and urbanism.


Course outline:
Week 1: Introduction. Nineteenth-Century Paris: The Battle for Water
Week 2: Beneath the City: Hygiene, Circulation, Science
Week 3: Reconfiguring Shanghai under Western Colonialism (1842-1941)
Week 4: Post-Colonial Shanghai: Climate Change and Culture
Week 5: Havana cultural crossroads
Week 6: Environmental challenges
Plus, a special “field trip” to be announced!


Esther da Costa Meyer is Professor of modern and contemporary architecture at the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. Born in Brazil, she was an undergraduate at the University of Geneva, and did her Ph.D at Yale (1987). Over the years, she has focused on four broad different areas of study within architectural history, apart from her curatorial activities. Contemporary architecture remains a great passion, and she has published on architects such as Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry. In 2008, she curated a show on Frank Gehry at the Princeton University Art Museum, and authored the accompanying catalog (Yale University Press). An expert on nineteenth century architecture, da Costa Meyer also works on the architectural practices of the old colonial powers, particularly France, as well as the emerging cultures of resistance in colonized nations that were themselves highly hybrid, transnational, and diasporic. Her book manuscript on nineteenth-century Paris, dealing with many of these issues, was accepted for publication by Princeton University Press. More recently, she has turned her attention to environmental issues, and teaches courses on architecture, globalization and the sustainability, and has published written on the interface between architecture and the Anthropocene. An early but enduring interest is the architecture of the historic avant-gardes, and she has published extensively on the issue. In this respect, her exhibition, Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design is currently on view at the Jewish Museum in New York (catalog published by Yale University Press).