4.557J / MAS.552J
City Science — Settlements WITHOUT: Extreme engineering and design for communities WITHOUT infrastructure

Permission of instructor

By 2050, 3.5 billion people will likely live in informal settlements without proper access to power, sanitation, clean water, housing, and mobility.  Cost, complexity, and political impediments make it inconceivable that they will ever be served by conventional infrastructure and building construction.

While preserving the vibrancy and strong social ties typically found in these communities, can we conceive of "Settlements WITHOUT Infrastructure" by deploying emerging technology, materials, and design strategies at scale to create high-performance, autonomous communities?  

Can we develop concepts that can be applied to diverse communities in Africa, India, and Latin America?  

Can we transform existing slums without demolition, and create self-organizing communities without conventional urban planning, zoning, and land ownership rights?

This is project-oriented class, with students divided into teams of 2 or 3 people with complementary skills.  We welcome students from Architecture, Urban Planning, Engineering, Computer Science, Material Science, Social Science, and other related fields.  Students attending the first class on September 4 will be asked to write a short essay for evaluation before being accepted.

Participants will be challenged to outline schematic interventions deployed at the most distributed scale possible, which may include:

  • Power WITHOUT Grids.  How can distributed energy production can provide the necessary power for homes, mobility, food production, and the local processing of water and waste?
  • Sanitation WITHOUT Sewers.  How can human waste and garbage be processed locally?
  • Water WITHOUT Pipes.  How can water be collected, purified, and recycled without centralized networks?
  • Housing WITHOUT Construction.  How can density be increased and high-quality housing grown or assembled without disruptive demolition or the use of conventional construction processes?
  • Mobility WITHOUT Cars.  How can lightweight, hyper-efficient autonomous devices (land or air) move people, goods, and garbage without conventional roads.
  • Economies WITHOUT Currency.  how local token economies can encourage pro-social behaviors and build local wealth to help create strong communities.
  • Food WITHOUT Soil.  How can nutritious food be produced near the point of consumption?
  • Materials WITHOUT Boundaries: how can biologically inspired engineering create multi-functional materials for a new architecture.

Each team will present their integrated proposals for mid-term review to Norman Foster, Nicholas Negroponte, Kent Larson, and invited quests.  Following the mid-term review, teams will update their mid-term proposal based on comments and suggestions, and will identify at least one intervention to develop in detail as a final project.

Invited speakers will present material intended to inform the development of student projects and to inspire new ideas.  The first talk, on September 4 at 1pm will be by Sir Norman Foster.

One reading assignment will be given each week, typically discussed in class following a 45 minute talk.