Course Information
Urban Studies
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 



Berlin is justifiably recognized as a laboratory of modern European urban history, a city whose evolution has been profoundly affected by the principal political, economic, and aesthetic trends of the last two hundred years. In this course we shall examine Berlin's complicated and often turbulent development, taking advantage of our presence in the city to explore its urban landscape firsthand, and ask whether the forces that continue to forge Berlin's identity are the same that have been at work in other European and American cities. How does the European model of urban development compare to various American or global models? Since Berlin is a relatively young city by European standards, can it be held up as an example of "old world" urbanism, or does it in fact have more in common with American cities than some might think?

Students in the course visit many of the city's historic sites, and in class compare them to urban prototypes in Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg, New York, Los Angeles, Lagos, and Dubai—among other cities. How have absolutist policies, whether monarchic or totalitarian, influenced the city? How have periods of powerful economic growth, whether spurred by industrial revolution or the "economic miracle" of the post-war Wirtschaftswunder, determined urban growth? How have the 20th century's primary competing ideological systems—democratic market capitalism and Communism—altered the course of urban development in Europe? Berlin offers a unique opportunity to examine these questions in the one location where they have all played a vital role.

The course devotes time to important urban issues, both historical and actual: the relationship of municipal and state government in city planning (the transformation of Paris under Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III in the 19th century; the works programs of Robert Moses in New York City in the 20th century); the role of the automobile in the propagation of suburban sprawl; the impact of new technology on urban development; the city as an imperial or (post-)colonial power center; demographic challenges (shrinking versus expanding cities); the emergence of specific urban movements (Garden City, modernism, postmodernism, "Critical Reconstruction," "New Urbanism"); contrasting patterns of racism, poverty, and immigration; security in an age of terrorism; and the impact of global warming.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course students should be familiar with the historical framework of Berlin's modern urban evolution and with the theoretical concepts that have influenced that evolution. They should also be able to understand the varieties of urban transformation in other cities having used Berlin as a comparative model, and be aware of the principal forces affecting contemporary urban development.

Method of presentation: 

In class slide lectures and discussions; site visits; two week-long excursions to St. Petersburg and Paris.

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Participation: 20% Students must complete the assigned readings, participate in class discussions, and attend all site visits.
  • Mid-term: 20% A mid-term exam will be based on the readings and lectures.
  • Papers: 30% Two five-page papers will report on themes related to the excursions to St. Petersburg and Paris.
  • Final exam: 30% Students will write a final exam in which their understanding of the material covered during the course will be demonstrated.

Students are obliged to attend all class sessions and field trips.


Absolutism and the Origins of the Modern European City: Berlin and St. Petersburg (1703-1850)

Session 1 (in class): Baroque Legacies—Classical Impulses

  • Carl E. Schorske, “The Idea of the City in European Thought: Voltaire to Spengler,” in The Historian and the City, Oscar Handlin and John Burchard, eds. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1963).
  • W. Bruce Lincoln, prologue from Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia (New York: Basic Books, 2002).

Session 2 (field trip): Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Mitte—Defining the “Parvenupolis”
Site-visits:  Neue Wache (1816-18), Schauspielhaus (1818-21), Altes Museum (1822-30), Friedrich-Werder Kirche (1824-30), Bauakademie (mock-up, 1831-36)


  • Julius Posener, “Schinkel’s English Diary,” in From Schinkel to the Bauhaus, The Architectural Association, Paper Number 5 (London: Lund Humphries, 1972).
  • The Master Planner in an Age of Revolution: Berlin, Paris, and Vienna (1850-1914)

Session 3 (in class): Industrial Revolution, the Mietskaserne, and the Expanding City

  • Horst Matzerath, “Berlin, 1890-1940,” in Metropolis 1890-1940, Anthony Sutcliffe ed. (London: Mansell, 1984).
  • Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (“Die Großstadt und das Geistesleben,” Dresden, 1903) in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, Kurt H. Wolff, trans. and ed. (New York, 1950).

Session 4 (in class): “Haussmannization” in Paris

  • Walter Benjamin, “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, Peter Demetz, ed. (New York: Schocken, 1986).

Session 5 (in class): The Vienna Ring

  • Karl E. Schorske, “The Ringstrasse, Its Critics, and the Birth of Urban Modernism,” in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: Vintage, 1981).
  • The Birth of Modernism: Berlin (1914-1930)

Session 6 (in class): The Weimar Urban Avant-Garde

  • Barbara Miller Lane, “The New Architecture and the Vision of a New Society,” in Architecture and Politics in Germany 1918-1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).

Session 7 + 8 (field trip): The Siedlung and the Refutation of 19th Century Living
Site-visit: Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner, Hufeisensiedlung Britz (1925-30)


  • Nike Bätzner, “Housing Projects of the 1920s: A Laboratory of Social Ideas and Formal Experiment,” in City of Architecture/Architecture of the City: Berlin 1990-2000, Thorsten Scheer, J. P. Kleihues, Paul Kahlfeldt, eds. (Berlin: Nicholai, 2000).

Session 9: Mid-Term Exam

Excursion: St. Petersburg
Models of Total Urbanism: Berlin and New York City (1930-1945) Session 10 (in class): Hitler, Speer, and the Vision of “Germania”


  • Albert Speer, “The Greatest Assignment,” in Inside the Third Reich, Memoirs (New York: Macmillan, 1970).

Session 11 (in class): Skyscraper and Expressway—Building the Empire State

  • Robert A. Caro, “Wait until the Evening,” in The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, (New York: Vintage, 1975).

Postwar Polemics: Berlin and Los Angeles (1945-1989)

Session 12 (in class): Tabula rasa?—Planning in Ideological Opposition

  • Alan Colquhoun, “On Modern and Postmodern Space,” in Architecture, Criticism, Ideology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, 1985).

Session 13 (field trip): Socialist Utopias—Stalinallee and Alexanderplatz
Site-visits: housing and commercial buildings on the Karl-Marx-Allee


  • Josef Paul Kleihues, “From the Destruction to the Critical Reconstruction of the City: Urban Design in Berlin after 1945,” in Berlin-New York: Like and Unlike: Essays on Architecture and Art from 1870 to the Present, Josef Paul Kleihues and Christina Rathgeber eds. (New York: Rizzoli, 1993).

Excursion: Paris

Session 14 + 15 (field trip): From Center to Edge to Center—Kulturforum and Potsdamerplatz
Site-visits: Mies van der Rohe, Neue Nationalgalerie (1965-68); Hans Scharoun, Philharmonie (1960-63),
Staatsbibliothek (1967); Potsdamerplatz (Renzo Piano, et al.).


  • Alan Balfour, “Kultur Forum,” in Berlin: The Politics of Order, 1737-1989 (New York: Rizzoli, 1990).
  • Rem Koolhaas, “Junk Space,” in Content (Köln: Taschen, 2004).

Session 16 (in class): Dissolution and Defense in the City of Angels

  • William Fulton, “The Collapse of the Growth Machine,” in The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
  • New World Order?—Bloat, Shrink, or Sprawl: Berlin, Dubai, Lagos (1989 to the present)

Session 17 (in class): “Critical Reconstruction” and other Controlling Strategies


  • Hans Stimmann, introduction to The City in Black: The Physionomy of Central Berlin 1940-2010 (Berlin: Nicolai, 2002).

Session 18 (in class): The Wages of Globalization: Instant City and Megacity

  • Mike Davis, “Sand, Fear, and Money in Dubai,” in Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (New
  • York: The New Press, 2007).
  • George Packer, “The Megacity: Decoding the chaos of Lagos,” in The New Yorker, November 13, 2006.

Session 19 (in class): Millennial Challenges

  • Alex Krieger, “The Costs—and Benefits—of Sprawl: A Historical Perspective,” in Harvard Design Magazine 19, Fall 2003/Winter 2004.
  • Bruce Katz, Andy Altman, Julie Wagner, “An Agenda for the Urban Age,” in The Endless City: The Urban Age Project by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society, Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, eds. (London: Phaidon, 2007).

Session 20: Final Exam