TU Dresden | Wintersemester 2021 / 2022 Minimal Urbanism

Minimal Urbanism

Today, sustainable urbanism is based on a technological discourse premised on a shift in industrial development towards increased material efficiency. In the context of our planetary crisis, ever bigger forms of criticism about the underlying economic and societal implications of this model is arising.

Radical environmental alternatives to the green urban growth paradigm exist in academic, professional and social bodies (i.e. Degrowth theory, A4F, or BDA) have flourished, however such alternatives are still characterized as a rejection to green growth, and still there is a lack a symbolic and literal definition of such alternative. In this ambivalent context, architecture and urban design practices predicated on green growth appropriate the language of radical environmentalism, and the lack of clear conceptual boundaries for the radical environmental alternatives allow green urban washing go unnoticed.

Departing from the premise that images are a form of language, this course explores how visual arguments supporting a radical environmental transition can counteract the rhetoric of green growth. For this reason in the course, students will explore architectural and urban representation systems that literally and symbolically describe a radical environmental alternative for cities:


From a symbolic perspective the course will use key texts reacting against the green growth agenda to critically discuss the potentials, reach and shortcomings of radical environmental propositions in architecture.


From a literal perspective the course will develop visual and analytical resources to persuasively portray radical environmentalism as an alternative in architecture culture.


The course aims to contribute to a monograph on the topic of minimal urbanism and urban sufficiency, in which context students’ work will be credited. Publishing houses scoped are Jovis, Birkhäuser, Verso, Wiley, Lars-Müller and Hatje Cantz.


Throughout the semester, students will build a visual argument persuading an imaginary audience of the need to build minimal urban interventions. To do so, they will select an existing project with qualities aligned to a radical environmental agenda, and create a visual narrative that persuasively renders the positive aspects of the project. This will entail both a theoretical deepening on the architectural meaning of radical environmentalism, as well as a critical and creative interpretation of architectural representation systems.

Students will use any combination of text and visuals (photos, maps, plans, sections, infographics, charts, or renderings) to portray the value of such minimal projects. The representation system developed by students should itself be simple, consistent and rich.


Project O: Each student will choose a case study among pool of potential projects provided by the instructor, suggest alternative case studies, and identify possible ways to represent the radical environmental values of the chosen case study.

Project I: Each student will explain how the chosen project leads to a radical environmental intervention. This will entail background research, graphical and textual work, presented into a page-format narrative.

Project II: Students will critically examine, re-edit and clarify the narrative of the Project I of one of their colleagues. They can also use a novel narrative and representation.

Project III: Students will re-edit the Project II of one of their colleagues and elaborate a standardized book page format analysis At this stage projects should comply to graphic standards proposed by the instructor.

To provide conceptual input to students, the instructor will lecture and discuss with students about green urban growth, degrowth, and critical cartography.


15/10    Introduction

Introduction to content, aims, organization, case studies and deliverables

22/10    Appeal and shortcomings of urban green growth

            Discussion about urban eco-modernization and underlying social discourses

29/10    Is there (really) an alternative to urban green growth?

Discussion about symbolic and literal representations of radical sustainabilities

05/11    Presentation Project 0 (case study choice)

Individual justification of chosen case-study (7’), followed by a group discussion

12/11    Individual desk-crits                              

19/11    Individual desk-crits                              

26/11    Individual desk-crits      

03/12    Presentation Project I

Individual visual interpretation of Project I argument, followed by a group discussion about common graphical standards and overall content. A3 format.

10/12    Individual desk-crits      

17/12    Individual desk-crits

07/01    Individual desk-crits

14/01    Presentation Project II

Individual re-editing of a Project I argument developed by a peer, followed by a group discussion about graphical standards and content. A3 and book formats.

21/01    Individual desk-crits

28/01    Individual desk-crits      

04/02    Individual desk-crits

01/03    Presentation Project III

Individual re-editing of project II argument developed by a peer, followed by a group discussion. A3 and book formats.


The grading will take into account both the quality of their graphic and textual argumentation, as well as the relative effort put by each student given the different representation methods chosen by each student, and the availability of data for each case, and the input received from a previous student.

The grade distribution is as follows:

            Contribution to theory discussions         22/10 & 29/10    10%

            Project I                                                03/12                30%

            Project II                                               14/01                30%

            Project III                                              01/03                30%



Bibliography: Information about possible case studies and theoretical references will be placed in Opal.


Graphic Standards: Students will initially use an InDesign page layout provided by the instructor, as well as some references for text quotations. Additional details regarding the outline of their assignments will be provided by the instructor.


Text Standards: Special attention will be paid to image and text copyrights – and clear differentiation between students’ edited images and their sources. The use of copyright free images is encouraged.


File sharing: Students follow a common file/folder system in Opal, and share their editable files with peers and instructor following the format: “YYMMDD_ProjectID_ImageTitle_Student”.

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