Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities: Cities on the Edge

In September 2019, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Princeton University $1 million to continue the work of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities though 2025. This is the third grant, and second renewal, from the foundation, bringing the total funding to $4.165 million since the program’s inception.

Since 2014, Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities—an interdisciplinary program housed in the School of Architecture—has brought together students and faculty with an interest in cities and the built environment through public programming, a series of undergraduate and graduate courses, and a yearly fellowship program that brings three to five scholars to campus annually. Princeton is one of more than a dozen research universities and institutes in the US, Canada, Great Britain, and South Africa that the Mellon Foundation engages and connects through its Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities initiative.

Led by Mario Gandelsonas, Professor of Architectural Design and Class of 1913 Lecturer in Architecture, and Alison Isenberg, Professor of History, the new grant includes an expanded theme, Cities on the Edge. This theme will explore the way in which cities exist on the edge of sustainability and climate change, are sites for the connective and comparative study of migration, and allow for scholarship that foregrounds hemispheric comparisons and connections. The program connects with the local and regional context by focusing on the distinct urbanism of New Jersey, “The State Between”, examining the relationship between center and periphery, and exploring the margin as a place of radical possibility. The Initiative also highlights the opportunities for social justice-oriented scholarship and civic engagement within urban studies.

Since Fall 2018, Urban Studies certificate students took an interdisciplinary design studio launched through the Initiative and co-taught by faculty from the School of Architecture and the humanities.

The Mellon Research Forum on the Urban Environment, which allows faculty and students to present and discuss their research, serves as the intellectual core of the program and anchors a robust lineup of public programming.

From 2014 to 2017, the Princeton-Mellon Initiative catalyzed teaching and research on campus around the theme, Cities of the Americas: Architecture, Society, Policy, and Culture. The program was led by Isenberg, Stan Allen, The George Dutton '27 Professor of Architecture, and Bruno Carvalho, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese.

From 2017 to 2020, the renewed PMI program, Cities on the Edge: Hemispheric Comparisons and Connections, continued its innovative work bridging architecture, the humanities, and environmental studies through a comparative approach to urbanism and architecture along South-North, East-West, South-South, and North-North lines. The Initiative engaged new units on campus, fostered research and teaching collaborations across disciplines and regional boundaries, and supported engaged urban design and scholarship that sought to contribute to better urban futures. Isenberg and Gandelsonas led the project in its second phase.