Mellon Forum on the Urban Environment

The intellectual core of the Princeton Mellon Initiative, the Mellon Forum is an ongoing, flexible colloquium for the discussion and critique of faculty, student and guest speakers' research. At the Forum, Faculty and students present their research, whether a design, model, film chapter, performance, or particular source or problem for discussion.

A different set of conveners organize each semester with themes which tap into fresh configurations of the University community to attract new energy.  The Forum welcomes all disciplines. Forum events are free and open to the public.

See our Events page for more information.


This semester’s topic is “Narrative,” addressing the different ways citizens, academics, and artists build stories on the urban environment. The series focuses on the innovative and interdisciplinary methods to address the current and past crises that change the way we envision cities and architecture. Each seminar is devoted to the related sub-topics of Mapping, Unreal Cities, Divided Cities, Trauma, and Buffer Zones.

The Fall 2019 Mellon Forum is organized by Anne Cheng, Professor of English and Director of American Studies, and Basile Baudez, Assistant Professor of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University, and supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional funding from the Humanities Council, Center for Collaborative History, American Studies, and Art & Archaeology. 

Laura Kurgan (Columbia) and Matteo Pericoli
September 24 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery 

Innovations in Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technologies have recently been adopted as a daily tool in the humanities. Interdisciplinary by definition, digital humanities create opportunities to open new fields combining visual images, graphics, figure data, and texts. Innovative responses include projects at the intersection of literature and the built environment. Graphic visualization of territories allows us to recollect stories and locate them in the built context, but what kind of narratives are born of this technology? How do we keep this open space of potential innovation and not flatten the story into conventional modes of mapping and literal map-making? This session will focus on the challenges and opportunities introduced by mapping technologies in shaping narratives.

Esra Akcan (Cornell) and Valentina Rozas-Krause (Berkeley)
October 8 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery        

The history of trauma resides in each of us---as citizens, we are marked by the history of our countries at (perpetual) war, both present and past. Cities, like individuals, bear witness to the psychological, physical, and affective consequences of individual and collective trauma. This session explores the attempts to remember, forget, or mark the landscape with our histories of trauma, moral injury, and losses. What is public versus private space/grieving? What is the ethics of memory and forgetting, the tension between memorialization and progress? How do we think about the ethics of monumentality in an increasing global practice of memorialization, even as atrocity continues to haunt our everyday? 
Dominic Pettman (New School) and Gyan Prakash (Princeton)
November 5 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”— Italo Calvino 

This session unearths the layered metafictions of the city: how the stories we tell about our cities restructure the cities themselves and how the city alters how we tell stories about ourselves. What is the science and the imagination of a city? What maps and narratives lie hidden but also animate the familiar atlas of everyday space? Through notions of the “unreal city,” we explore the visions, apocalyptic or aspirational, that imagine a city into being.

V. Mitch McEwen (Princeton) and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Princeton)
November 19 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery

Cites are amorphous, at times unwieldy, entities unified by shared narratives by inhabitants and visitors about their history, landmarks, culinary traditions or sports teams. But communities and narratives are multiple and, at times, outright conflicting. Division can literally derive from physical barriers, from natural (rivers or hills) to manmade (walls or fences). Most barriers however are not physical, and are born from politics, race, religion, and economics. How narratives reveal or conceal these urban divisions will be at the core of this session.
Keller Easterling (Yale) and Tali Hatuka (Tel Aviv) 
December 3 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery

A recent headline reads: “In Korean DMZ, Wildlife Thrive!” Apparently, the forces that lock humans out of the demilitarized zone has allowed wildlife and species to thrive. Thus the ongoing remnant of violent conflict is also a symbol of a greener, inhuman future. This session invites conversations about various buffer zones across the global landscape as uncanny agential spaces: those interim and in-between spaces that may have been designed to segregate conflict and dissent yet also often enable unexpected productivity and alternative modes of animacy.


"Locating Politics" takes up the rise and fall of recent uprisings as a springboard for examining a broader inventory and longer trajectory of spaces of contestation. We questioned the historical and emergent topologies of politics and their changing relations to race, migration, indigeneity, coloniality, and crisis. We asked how histories of sites of conflict, ranging from houses and streets to camps and prisons, might offer us not just understandings of different locations of politics, but of the overturning and re-bounding of the very limits of the political. The term location suggests both place (locus) and relational position, and it is to this intersection that this Forum spoke—where and with whom do we act politically today?

Organized by Princeton Mellon Fellows Nasser Abourahme and Noam Shoked, the Forum was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from the Humanities Council, Center for Collaborative History, American Studies, Judaic Studies, Near Eastern Studies, Transregional Institute and Art & Archaeology. The Forum events began at 12PM and were held in the School of Architecture South Gallery.

February 6 / Settlement - Camp / Nasser Abourahme and Noam Shoked, Princeton Mellon Fellows

March 4 / Settler Colonial Urbanism: From Waawiyaataanong to Detroit at Little Caesars Arena / Andrew Herscher, University of Michigan, and Miguel Robles-Duran, Parsons School of Design 

March 27 / Protest Camp - Holding Ground / Jaskiran Dhillon, The New School, and Candis Callison, Princeton

April 17 / Camp - Migrating / Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Barnard College, and Jacob Dlamini, Princeton                       
April 22 / Migration, Detention, Spatial Imagination / Sarah Lopez, University of Texas at Austin, and Vera Candiani, Princeton  

April 24 / Seizing Jerusalem / Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, and M. Christine Boyer, SoA


Organized by Alison Isenberg (History), Sheila Lin (SoA) and Ivan Lopez Munuera (SoA), the Forum events began at 12PM and were held in the School of Architecture South Gallery. The Forum was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Humanities Council and the Program in Gender & Sexuality Studies. 

September 26 / "Away with Your Man-Visions": Gender as a Framework for Rethinking Housing and Urban Design" / Dolores Hayden, Yale University, and Dianne Harris, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, a few lively feminist activists attacked women’s responsibility for unpaid nurturing work in the household as a basic cause of women’s inequality. The women Dolores Hayden has called “material feminists,” including Melusina Fay Peirce and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, proposed new designs for homes, neighborhoods, and cities to provide infrastructure for women’s future economic independence. It has been almost forty years since Hayden's 1981 book, The Grand Domestic Revolution, revealed the scope of their work and influence. Why has the spatial side of American women’s history remained so little known?

October 24 / “…A soaking, seeping, spatial politics” / Kian Goh, UCLA, and Kadambari Baxi, Barnard College, Columbia University

Those of us who think, live, and do “the city” are faced with very different quandaries. We confront the rise of nativist, reactionary, and exclusionary politics that threaten to tear the fabric of urban social life. And we are faced with the planetary-scale existential crises of climate change. On the one hand, we need to attend to the local and immediate. On the other, we need to critically engage the global and long-range. This talk probes the possibility of an urban research and practice that develops productive links between these concerns. Dr. Goh will address the intersection of two avenues of her research, the spatial politics of urban climate change planning, and the contestation over queer space in cities. She will situate her talk by referring to examples of the multiscalar and multilevel plans and “counterplans" formed around urban climate change adaptation initiatives in sites in Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America, as well as her participatory research of the embodied, history and place-specific claims of radical LGBT activists in New York City. 

November 7 / "Just Space: Architecture, Education, and Inequality in Postwar Urban America" / Marta Gutman, CUNY, and Mónica Ponce de León, School of Architecture

This edition of the Mellon Forum sheds new light on the struggle for racial justice in public schools in the United States during the middle of the twentieth century. Marta Gutman argues that the mentality of equalization, an intentionally meager approach to school desegregation invented in the South in response to Brown v. Board of Education, conditioned the thinking of architects across the U.S. and their designs for public schools. She directs attention to the physical tools that the state used to segregate schools, highlighting examples in South Carolina, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, and California, and to the strategies that parents, teachers, students, architects, artists and other activists used to challenge inequality and reconfigure outcomes—to make just space for children.

November 14 / "The Way We Work" / Peggy Deamer, Yale University, and Alison Isenberg, Princeton

This presentation will focus on the necessity of understanding that we architects work. As a discipline that is the last creative or professional field to engage labor laws or participate in labor discourse, we will examine some of the institutional and historical conditions that have precipitated the idea that we do art, not work; that architecture is a calling and not a career. It will look at movements, including those led by feminists, that argue for a reconception of architectural work.

November 28 / "Maxixe in the Metropolis: Constructing Afro-Paulistano Respectability ca.1920" / Aiala Levy, Princeton Mellon Fellow, and Marília Librandi-Rocha, Princeton

As thousands of migrants and immigrants poured into São Paulo at the start of the twentieth century, many groups worked to define their place within a rapidly changing society.  Among these groups were those affiliated with São Paulo's burgeoning black press, literate men and women who took advantage of the city's new spaces to create leisure opportunities for those of their race.  The presentation will explore how this racialized realm of leisure mapped onto São Paulo's shifting landscape, reflecting and fashioning gender norms among São Paulo's "class of color."

SPRING 2018 / SENSORIAL URBANISM: The Aesthetics of Immateriality

The Spring 2018 Mellon Research Forum on the Urban Environment focused on how architecture and cities are mediated, experienced, and represented through seemingly  immaterial means. Questions included, how do theories of neurophysiology and urban form shape the way we map the inner and outer world? How do microbial landscapes determine our moods, food processes and even configurations of whole cities? And how do the ways that we smell the streets, represent the city in color, and hear urban life change the way we embody and redesign the city? Panelists included architects, artists, scientists, designers and other scholars whose work seeks to unpack the aesthetic dimensions of immateriality in the city.
The Forum was organized by Evangelos Kotsioris (Architecture) and Phil Taylor (Art & Archaeology); events began at 5PM and were held in the School of Architecture South Gallery.

February 28 / NERVES / Lan A. Li, Columbia University,  and Anthony Acciavatti, Princeton Mellon Fellow

March 28 / COLOR / Leslie Wilson, SUNY Purchase, and Katherine Bussard, Princeton

April 2 / MICROBES / Orkan Telhan, University of Pennsylvania, and Esther Choi, SoA 

April 16 / SCENT / Joanna Fiduccia, Reed College, and D. Graham Burnett, Princeton

April 25 / MUSIC / Willem Boning, Arup, and Emily Thompson, Princeton


A growing body of contemporary research about infrastructure in architecture, the humanities, and social sciences takes as its object large-scale, seemingly immaterial infrastructures. Against assumptions about the invisibility of infrastructure, new scholarship accounts for the materiality of systems that range in time and scale from global networks and longue durée processes, to fleeting, microscopic phenomena. In working across different registers and sites, what possibilities and problems do work on materiality pose to theory, methods and critique? In order to understand this, our series created dialogues across disciplinary boundaries that focused on a particular material, including water, carbon, biota, cargo and building materials. In doing so, we explored how material shapes the possibilities for human worlds, be they social, political, religious, cultural, or otherwise.

The Fall 2017 research forum was curated by Andrew A. Johnson (Anthropology) and Curt Gambetta (Architecture). Events began at 12PM and were held in the School of Architecture South Gallery. 

September 25 / BIOTA Stuart McLean, University of Minnesota, and Peder Anker, NYU

October 9 / AIR / Erik Harms, Yale University, and Enrique Ramirez, Ball State University

October 16 / CARBON / Gökçe Gunel , University of Arizona, and Ateya Khorakiwala, Princeton Mellon Fellow

November 15 / CARGO / Jesse LeCavalier, NJIT, and Janell Rothenberg, UCLA 

November 28 /  BUILDING MATERIALS / Diana Martinez, Tufts University, and Catherine Fennell, Columbia University

December 6 / WATER / Nikhil Anand, University of Pennsylvania, and Mitch McEwen, SoA


In Spring 2017, the Mellon Forum for Research on the Urban Environment focused on Segregation, Migration, and the Built Environment. The Forum was organized by Sarah Lopez, Princeton-Mellon Fellow.

February 13 / Far from Sanctuary: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights / Allyson Hobbs, Stanford University, and Stacey Sinclair, Princeton

February 22 /  Police and Infrastructure in the U.S. - Mexico Borderland / C.J. Alvarez, University of Texas - Austin, and Sarah Lopez, Princeton Mellon Fellow

March 1 / Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory / Charles Waldheim, Harvard University, and Rachael DeLue, Princeton

March 8 / Writing Atmosphere: Experiments in Spatial and Environmental Writing / David Gissen, California College of the Arts, and M. Christine Boyer, SoA

March 15 / What Does a Global History of Urban Segregation tell us about Global Urban History? / Carl Nightingale, University at Buffalo, and Jeremy Adelman, Princeton 

March 27 / The Alien in our Midst: Memory, Displacement and the Making of our Everyday World / Arijit Sen, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Andrew A. Johnson, Princeton


In Fall 2016, the Mellon Forum focused on The Nature of Cities, bringing together scholars to explore the complex and overlapping landscapes and ecosystems found in the urban built environment. The Forum was organized by Vera Candiani (History) and Elsa Devienne (Princeton Mellon Fellow).

September 21 / Coastal Resilience: Past & Present Perspectives / Andrew W. Karl, University of Virginia; Guy Nordensen, SoA; and Elsa Devienne, Princeton Mellon Fellow

September 28 / Globalization Meets Decolonization: The Urban Linkage, 1940s- 70s / Cyrus Schayegh, Princeton, and Ayala Levin, Princeton Mellon Fellow

October 12 / Imagining a Nonhuman Philadelphia / Alan C. Braddock, College of William & Mary, and Rachel Price, Princeton 

October 19 / New York Botanical Garden Mellon Fellows / Robert Corban, Sahar Hosseini, Rachel Koroloff, Lynette Regouby, and Lauren Trahan

October 26 / The Bulldozer in the Countryside, 15 Years Later / Adam Rome, University at Buffalo, and Stan Allen, SoA

November 9 / The Lessons of 19th Century Boston Harbor / Michael Rawson, Brooklyn College, and Bruno Carvalho, Princeton

December 7 (postponed) / Perspectives on Urban Environmental History: The Case of Pittsburgh / Joel Tarr, Carnegie Mellon, and Vera Candiani, Princeton


In academic year 2015-16, the Mellon Forum for Research on the Urban Environment brought together scholars from varying disciplines to discuss City as Home - issues and themes ranging from Property, Belonging, and Family, to Housing, Habitation, and Futures were examined.

September 23 /
Opening Plenary / Joao Biehl, Princeton; Mario Gandelsonas, SoA; Gyan Prakash, Princeton; and Judith Weisenfeld, Princeton 

September 30 / The Color of Modernity / Barbara Weinstein, NYU

October 7 / J.B. Jackson's Vision of the City as Part of the Landscape Helen Horowitz, Smith College, and Carla Yanni, Rutgers University

October 15 / Real Estate, Race, and Architecture / Andrew Sandoval-Strausz,  Princeton Mellon Fellow, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton

November 12 / Literature Between Home and the City / Lilia Schwarcz, Princeton 

November 18 / Over the Ruins of Amazonia / Paulo Tavares, Princeton 

November 23 / Latin America, Space, and the Cold War Pedro Alonso, Princeton Mellon Fellow, and Jean Louis Cohen, SoA

December 3 / Inscribing Home in the City in Mexico and Colombia / Sebastian Ramirez, Princeton, and Pablo Landa, Princeton

December 11 / The Future of Public Housing / Leandro Benmergui, SUNY Purchase; Joseph Heathcott, Princeton Mellon Fellow; and Li Li, Xiamen University

February 25 / A woman's place? Rethinking Home in the Islamic City / Bridgett Purcell, Princeton, and Rachel Price, Princeton 

March 7 / The Black Market as City: New Ressearch on Alternative Urban Space in Occupied Japan, 1945-52 / Kosei Hatsuda, University of Tokyo/Princeton, and Akito Sakasai, University of Tokyo/Harvard

March 23 / Beaches in the City Elsa Devienne, Princeton Mellon Fellow

April 5 / The Color of War: Race, Neoliberalism and Punishment in Late 20th Century Los Angeles / Donna Murch, Rutgers University

April 12 / An Indigenous Woman's Map of the City: Indian Spaces in Progressive Era Washington, D.C. / Cathleen Cahill, University of New Mexico, and Martha Sandweiss, Princeton 

April 21 / Paris Remade: Architecture, Planning, and the Post-Industrial Imaginary / Joseph Heathcott, Princeton Mellon Fellow, and M. Christine Boyer, SoA

April 28 / Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India'a Ancient River Anthony Acciavatti, Princeton, and Pedro Alonso, Princeton Mellon Fellow


In Spring 2015, the Detroit 101 lecture series examined the underlying causes that perpetuated Detroit's decline, and used these as a lens to supplant rhetoric and explore new territories across multiple fields of study.

February 26 / Art & Image / Judith Hamera, Princeton, and  John Patrick Leary, Wayne State University

March 2 / Urbanism & Design / Maurice Cox, Director of Planning and Development, City of Detroit

March 11 / The Arts of Urban Transition / Oge Ude, Alexander Quetell, Lauren Wodarski (Princeton Undergraduate Students)

March 25 / Philanthropy & Public Policy Don Chen, Ford Foundation

March 30 / History, Race & Real Estate Thomas Sugrue, NYU; Dan Kinkead, Detroit Future City; and Jerry Paffendorf, Loveland Technologies


The Fall 2014 Forum on American Places was convened by William Gleason, Chair of the Department of English and Bruno Carvalho, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures.

September 22 / Thinking Hemispherically about Cities / Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Kickoff Event / Stan Allen, SoA; Fabrizio Gallanti, Princeton Mellon Fellow; and Alison Isenberg, Princeton

September 29 / Stadium Cultures in North and South America / Sigrid Adriaenssens, Princeton; Bruno Carvalho, Princeton; and William Gleason, Princeton 

October 13 / Postwar New York / Mariana Mogilevich, Princeton Mellon Fellow; Aaron Shkuda, Princeton Mellon Initiative; and Zahid R. Chaudhary, Princeton 

November 3 / Chocolate Cities and Vanilla Suburbs: Race, Space and American Culture After World War II / Eric Avila, UCLA

November 11 / Unequal Ties: Gilberto Freyre’s Recife and the Challenges of Urban History in the Global South / Brodwyn Fischer,  University of Chicago

November 17 / Cities of Latin/o America: Culture, Policy, and Built Environments / Arlene Dávila, NYU; Zaire Dinzey-Flores, Rutgers University; and Johana Londoño, Princeton Mellon Fellow

December 8 / The Struggle for the Future of New Orleans / Josh Guild, Princeton, and Malik Rahim, Common Ground Relief