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History of Urban Form


The History of Urban Form was one of the most influential courses ever taught at Georgia Tech; in fact, one year it was voted the most popular elective on the entire campus. For many of his students it was enough to change their career path to urban design and city planning.

We are incredibly fortunate that Professor Doug Allen recorded his lectures the last year he was able to teach them, and we are honored to begin sharing them with you here for the first time.
This series of lecture videos will expand your understanding of where cities come from, why we live in them, how they function, and where they are going. But this is not your average history course. Through sharp wit and legendary asides, Allen reveals and analyzes the interconnected components of cities (mankind’s largest artifacts) and displays their collective histories against the challenges of contemporary planning. Prepare to see the built environment in a new light.

Lecture 01: What is a City?

What follows is an edited transcription of Doug Allen’s first lecture of his legendary course, The History of Urban Form, recorded on August 21st, 2013, at Georgia Tech – the last semester Doug was able to teach. Doug taught this course for over 30 years and inspired hundreds of his students to pursue careers in urban design and planning. In fact, the course was voted the most popular elective offered on the entire Georgia Tech campus. We are excited to make this material publicly available to ensure that his lessons continue to be taught.

Thanks to the generous support of Mr. Seth and Mrs. Jennie Gallaher, Dr. John and Mrs. Pam Harris, Doctors Hill and Susie Harris, Dr. Dan and Mrs. Jennifer Harris, and Mrs. Kathy Allen, we have produced the first lecture, “What is a City,” as an animated video with Allen’s original voiceover; watch it here.

Lecture 02, PT I: Measuring Density

In Lecture 01, Doug divides cities between two orders: the Constitutional and Representational. These orders reflect, respectively, the public and private components of cities. In the transcription that follows here, he addresses another theme that will carry through the entire History of Urban Form series: street networks, patterns, and the measure of density.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Evaluate various definitions of a city.
  2. Learn the fundamental components of cities (as uniquely defined by Doug Allen) and how they combine to form our basic organizational structure.
  3. Evaluate the commonalities of cities throughout the world.
  4. Enhance the understanding of scale in urbanism.

Watch the Video of Lecture 01 (for free!)
Claim Continuing Ed Credit for AICP (AIA and ASLA coming soon)

Forthcoming Lectures

  • Lecture 02, PT II: Origins of the City
  • Lecture 03: The City in the Aegean World
  • Lecture 04: The Polis and the Knowledge of the Good
  • Lecture 05: Agora, Acropolis, Grid
  • Lecture 06: The Founding of Rome
  • Lecture 07: Colonial Cities in the Roman World
  • Lecture 08: Res Publica
  • Lecture 09: Constantinople and the Fragmentation of Empire
  • Lecture 10: The City of God
  • Lecture 11: The Emergence of the Market
  • Lecture 12: Cities in Africa and Arabia
  • Lecture 13: The Present in the Past
  • Lecture 14: The Idea of the City in the European Renaissance
  • Lecture 15: The Italian Renaissance
  • Lecture 16: Baroque Rome
  • Lecture 17: The Renaissance City in France
  • Lecture 18: Le Notre and the Grand Project I
  • Lecture 19: Le Notre and the Grand Project II
  • Lecture 20: Cities in the Islamic World
  • Lecture 21: London and the Residential Square
  • Lecture 22: The Colonial City in the Americas
  • Lecture 23: Origins of American Urbanism I
  • Lecture 24: Origins of American Urbanism II
  • Lecture 25: Establishing a National Order
  • Lecture 26: The City in the Enlightenment
  • Lecture 27: The City of the Dreadful Night
  • Lecture 28: The Park and the Town
  • Lecture 29: Territorial Transformations in Paris under Napoleon III
  • Lecture 30: Reactionary Tactics of Parks and the Suburbs
  • Lecture 31: City Beautiful
  • Lecture 32: City Functional
  • Lecture 33: Plan Voisin and the Radiant City
  • Lecture 34: Vicissitudes of Utopia
  • Lecture 35: Zoning and the Institutionalization of City Planning
  • Lecture 36: Expansion of the Regulatory Framework
  • Lecture 37: Equity, Race, and Place
  • Lecture 38: Edge Cities and the Crisis of the Object
  • Lecture 39: New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism