Toward an Agrarian Urbanism: Progressive Potentials for Contemporary Practice

Wednesday, Apr 15, 2020


The SOM Foundation is pleased to announce its inaugural lecture for the SOM Foundation Research Prize, a new annual lecture series that aims to expand discussion around a new topic each year. Charles Waldheim, juror of the 2019 Research Prize, will discuss his work as it relates to this year’s focus: “Shrinking our Agricultural Footprint.”

Charles Waldheim’s talk opens with a brief reconsideration of Ludwig Hilberseimer’s vision of Chicago as a distributed agrarian urban field and will locate that project in a long history of progressive urban projects that addresses societal and environmental reform. This brief prehistory sets the context for the topic of the 2019 SOM Foundation Research Prize and will reference a number of contemporary practices that are also engaging with the relationship between agricultural production, culinary culture, and urbanization. Referencing Waldheim’s current research through the GSD Office for Urbanization, the talk presents projects that explicitly focus on the agrarian context for new urban propositions.

Charles Waldheim is a North American architect and urbanist. He advises public and private clients on questions of contemporary urbanism and collaborates with multidisciplinary teams on urban projects internationally. Waldheim’s research and practice examine the relations between landscape, ecology, and contemporary urbanism. He coined the term “landscape urbanism” to describe the emergent discourse and practices of landscape in relation to design culture and contemporary urbanization. On these topics, Waldheim is author of Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory and editor of The Landscape Urbanism Reader. Waldheim developed the theory of landscape urbanism in response to the industrial economy, emergent ecology, and particular histories of the American city. On this topic, he curates the Future of the American City platform. Waldheim is John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design where he directs the School’s Office for Urbanization. He also serves as the Ruettgers Curator of Landscape at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Waldheim is the recipient of the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome; the Visiting Scholar Research Fellowship from the Canadian Centre for Architecture; a Graham Foundation grant; the Cullinan Chair at Rice University; and the Sanders Fellowship at the University of Michigan. He has been visiting scholar at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and the Bauhaus in Dessau. His project Heliomorphic Chicago with The Office for Urbanization was included in the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

About the SOM Foundation
Founded in 1979, the SOM Foundation’s goal is to advance the design profession’s ability to address the key issues of our time by bringing together and supporting groups and individuals, each with the highest possible design aspirations. The Foundation’s grant programming was established in 1981 and currently offers four annual awards across the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. The grants support students and faculty of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and engineering to undertake rigorous interdisciplinary research that can help shape our future. To learn more, visit the SOM Foundation's website:

The lecture is organized in collaboration with the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Image: Ludwig Hilberseimer, planner, with Alfred Caldwell, delineator, The City in the Landscape, 1942. Courtesy Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, Gift of Alfred Caldwell.