Graduate School of Design Launches Office for Urbanization


The Harvard Graduate School of Design has created a new office to study urbanization, and it will approach the issue from a design perspective, rather than through standard planning, policy, or social science lenses, founding director and Design School professor Charles Waldheim said. “Design is actually a mode of thinking or a way of understanding the world that doesn’t simply come after policy and planning, but can equally become quite central to framing a response to urban challenges,” Waldheim said.

According to Waldheim, one of the new office’s goals is to study global urban challenges in a small-scale setting where the problem is extreme, such as analyzing the city of Miami Beach as a case study for rising sea levels around the world.

“We like Miami beach because of the fact that it’s probably the most extreme condition in North America, and there’s been very little published about it in the design disciplines,” Waldheim said.

The new office has also partnered with AECOM, a large engineering and planning firm, to study urban development in Chinese cities, specifically satellite cities or new towns. It will also collaborate with the Exumas, a district of islands in the Bahamas, where researchers will study “territories of urbanization,” Waldheim said. In these territories, the office will focus on finding “ways in which the Exumas could be more sustainable primarily from a public health and sustainable food initiative,” he said.

These three specific projects are the start of the new office’s work on these topics, according to Waldheim. “There are enormous challenges out there, and I think that we can help advance knowledge around those questions, but at the same time ... we’re careful to not make claims beyond what we’re already doing,” he said.

In addition to outside firms and companies, faculty and students within the GSD are involved in various research projects, including Design School faculty members Rosetta S. Elkins, Christopher C. Lee, and Gareth G. Doherty.

In a press release, Design School Dean Mohsen Mostafavi described the office as “a continuation of the GSD’s historic leadership in applied project-based design research...The Office will work to shorten the distance between innovation in design research and impact in the world.”

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