2019 | Contemporary City

Contemporary City 1 | Projects and Descriptions
Prof. Laurent Devisme with Prof. Daniele Villa
Tutors: Ph.D Alice Buoli, Ph.D. Matteo Del Fabbro, Ph.D Mario Paris
MA Course in Urban Planning and Policy Design
AUIC School | Politecnico di Milano | a.y. 2018-2018

The course “Contemporary City. Descriptions and Projects“ (a.y. 2018/2019), directed by prof. Laurent Devisme (visiting professor from Ensa-Nantes, France), aimed at analyzing and discussing core issues of contemporary urban planning and design with reference to a multi-scalar and interdisciplinary approach. The course offered students an innovative teaching program articulated in a sequence of lectures, critical interpretation of literature and collective discussion, starting from the contemporary debates inside urban studies and from the international urban literature, and in parallel by the observation and representation of the Milan metropolitan area. The course combined, in an integrated and complementary way, a critical / theoretical teaching with elements of “practice-based” and studio teaching, as well as flipped classroom / blended learning. The class – organized in 19 groups of 4/5 students – have been engaged in the following activities during the entire semester.

Critical text analysis. Every week five groups of students are involved in the reading and critical analysis of four academic texts in continuity and in dialogue with the themes proposed by the teaching team during the lectures.

Mini-studios. Four parallel “laboratory” activities are divided into three weeks of intensive work on one of the four areas / methodologies proposed for the exploration and critical reading of the Milan metropolitan area. All groups are involved (in turn) in all four workshops.

1. Spatial controversies: documentation, mapping and “staging” of a spatial conflicts at the urban or national level. Each group carries out a thorough research on a relevant conflict situation, through the available literature (academic and “grey”), but also on the basis of field explorations and short interviews. The final objective is the production of a series of research dossiers and the “staging” of disputes through the representation of the different points of view of the actors involved.

2. An Alphabet of the Milan region: collective construction of an alphabet of significant and representative words about the Milanese region. Each item of the alphabet consists of a technical-descriptive text and a “postcard” / visual representation (photographic, collage, freehand drawing) produced during explorations. Starting from the observation of a series of open topics (spatial practices, urban material capital, ongoing transformations, mobility) the work methodology is managed independently by the groups on the basis of tutorials, references and tools offered by the teacher. The alphabet is discussed jointly by all 19 groups and will be collected in this blog in a digital format and a small paper publication.

3. Descriptions and narratives: production of site-specific narratives around some selected places in the city of Milan. Students, applying an observation methodology based on an ethnographic approach, are involved in the production of descriptive texts, conceived as “scripts” for recording short audio podcasts. The format combines elements of subjective / objective narration of a place, also through the reconstruction of its soundscape.

4. Commented City Walks: production of “collective” narratives of / along urban sequences. The mini-workshop, taking inspiration from the methodology proposed by prof. Jean-Paul Thibaud, proposes the reading of a piece of the city through the experience and the narration of different city-users and passers-by. Starting from the definition of some places and urban routes of interest and a series of research questions, the methodology involves the accompaniment, listening and recording of different “walks” commented by the identified subjects. The return of the experience takes place through different media, through which the paths are reconstructed and mapped and give rise to a critical reworking of the narratives of the different subjects.

The course’s activities have developed as part of the “Didattica Innovativa” programme at Politecnico di Milano



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Cover image by Arkak Mahdi, Mahdavi Ayda, Scalcinati Simone, Wall Henrietta Maria