Honoring Theory of City Form: A Tribute to Julian Beinart

OCW recently published a course—4.241J / 11.330J Theory of City Form—with a very special story associated, which was shared in August on the MIT School of Architecture website:

Honoring Theory of City Form

A Tribute to Julian Beinart

Julian Beinart (Photo: Charlie Hagan-Cazes. All rights reserved.)

Julian Beinart (Photo: Charlie Hagan-Cazes. All rights reserved.)

In May, a group of 40-50 alumni assembled at MIT from as far away as Europe and Asia to attend the last session of Julian Beinart’s class on the Theory of City Form, a class he’d taught since 1977.

Initiated by alumnus Isaac Manning (SMArchS’90) – president of Trinity Works, a real estate development firm based in Fort Worth – the event was an opportunity for alumni who had taken the course to honor the importance of the class, and of Beinart, to their careers.

A seminal course at the intersection of architecture, planning, real estate, economics, history and theory, Theory of City Form examined examples of urban design over time, concentrating on the origins of the modern city and theories about its emerging contours, including the transformation of the 19th-century city and its organization. It also analyzed current issues of city form in relation to city-making, social structure and physical design.

The class has been taken by hundreds of students over the years since Kevin Lynch introduced the subject in the mid-fifties – a nearly 60-year legacy that would be hard to overstate. ‘People have gone out and changed the world because of that course,’ says Manning. ‘It has touched a tremendous number of lives.’

In assessing the value of the class to him personally, Manning says ‘In my career I’ve practiced real estate development on a global scale, and it’s very reassuring when you go to Manila to know why Manila was built the way it was built, why it is the way it is. Julian’s course enabled me to drop in anywhere in the world and get an intelligent read on a city within 24 hours of my arrival. Taking that class gave me the vocabulary for doing that and its teachings are applicable to all the challenges we face today.’

In all the years the course was taught, it was somehow never recorded. So when Beinart announced his upcoming retirement, Manning took it upon himself to underwrite the video recording of all Beinart’s lectures for MIT’s Open Courseware program. The videos are now in post-production and will be added to the OCW website as soon as they’re edited. (OCW note: The videos are available now.)

At a reception that followed the lecture, faculty and alumni took the opportunity to offer toasts and accolades and presented Beinart with a book of letters and thanks from his previous students who couldn’t be there. They also created the Julian Beinart Fund, which will be used to benefit students in a way as yet to be determined – a fellowship, perhaps, or a travel fund.

Manning’s family seeded the fund to encourage other alums to join in – and many already have – with the goal bringing the fund to the endowment level of $50K by the end of 2013. Make a contribution here or contact Chris Santos at ccsantos@mit.edu or 617.253.7335.

Visit 4.241J / 11.330J Theory of City Form.



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