Charles Waldheim on creating an empirical urban position

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Land, Density (Part 3)

September 26, 2014

In part three of the Density session, Charles Waldheim brings an academic perspective to the relationship of density and carbon, building a case for a new professional identity for the design disciplines based around a framework of ecological thinking. Contending that we still haven’t decided the question “In what model should we urbanize?”, Waldheim presents his team’s efforts to find or build a projective model for looking at the city that is “socially progressive, environmentally leavened, and culturally relevant.” Seeking to move away from reliance on policy and exceptional built projects to dictate models for urbanism, he calls for an “empirical urban position” that shapes outcomes that are not only formal but performative with regard to carbon, water, solar, and other environmental considerations. At a time when disciplinary and professional roles are in flux, Waldheim advocates redefinition with ecology and biology at the fore.

Charles Waldheim is a Canadian-American architect, urban theorist, and John E. Irving Professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design where he directs the School’s Office for Urbanization.


The Five Thousand Pound Life: Land was a symposium on rethinking land and its value in light of climate change organized by The Architectural League and co-sponsored by The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design in September 2014.

Participants in the Density panel drew on their backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture, geography, city planning, and urban theory to discuss the value of density and the forms that it takes — or should take — to mitigate ecological impact.