The City In Theory - Her Agency

Seminar History and Theory of Urban Design (052-0850-22)
Veranstalter: Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design
Dozierende: Dr. Cathelijne Nuijsink, Dr. Léa-Catherine Szacka
Zeit: Spring 2022, Thursdays 15:45-17:30
Ort: ETH Zürich Hönggerberg, HPT C 103

Denise Scott Brown (1931 - ) in Las Vegas, 1966, photo Robert Venturi.">
Denise Scott Brown (1931 - ) in Las Vegas, 1966, photo Robert Venturi.

Architecture and urban culture operate along axes, which sometimes run parallel and sometimes cross each other. Traditionally, these axes have been defined and dominated by male figures. In the post-war era, however, the “female professional” emerged (in the role of architects, politicians, urban designers, journalists, editors, curators, philanthropists, etc.) who started to critically engage in discussions on urban design and actively contribute to the design of cities. This seminar intents to follow the work and life of a series of these female professionals of the post-war era, showing how, while operating in different contexts and networks, these women have forged the discourses and practices of their generation. By fully acknowledging the contributions of these female protagonists as both an inspiration source and as designer, this seminar sets out to make a correction to the existing, male-dominated histories and theories of urban design.

During the seminar, we will study the concept of agency – that is, the action or intervention producing a particular effect— of women through their contribution to urban theory and design. Parallel to that, we will explore to what degree ideas on cities have changed in the post-war period because of women's thinking and actions. Questions we will address in class discussion include but are not limited to, in what different roles did professional women operate and put their agency to work in sharing their ideas? How can we use critical writing to assess the agency of women on the city?

Course structure

This course is based on weekly, two-hour seminars structured around a series of input sessions on the themes of “agency” and “professional women,” as well as the acquisition of critical writing skills. During the first class, students will be asked to choose one female protagonist (from a pre-selected group) on which to focus their individual research to be carried out over the course of the entire semester. As part of their research, students will actively gather relevant sources in the library that can contribute to the research questions posed above. The semester-long individual research will culminate in a short piece of critical writing to be included in the collaborative online exhibition.


The final grade consists of:
Active participation in class discussions (15%)
Individual research project and piece of critical writing (55%)
Collective online exhibition (30%)


  • Seminar 07- 14 April – Intermediate Presentation
  • Seminar 08- 28 April – Writing Workshop 1
  • Seminar 09- 5 May – Online Exhibition
  • Seminar 10- 12 May – Writing Workshop 2
  • Seminar 11 - 19 May - Final Reviews