Urban Studies: Placemaking

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Urban street corner

For the first time, undergraduate and graduate students from UChicago, across the country, and from around the world, are being invited to come to UChicago this summer to study and work with artist and Director, Arts + Public Life, Theaster Gates, and Place Lab.

The UChicago Summer Urban Studies: Placemaking Program seeks to expose students to the concepts of placemaking, community development, and public interest design while providing intensive hands-on, project-based experience.

Place Lab, an organization founded in 2014, is made up of professionals from law, urban planning, architecture, design, social work, arts administration, and gender and cultural studies. It is a partnership between the UChicago Art initiative, Arts + Public Life and the Harris School of Public Policy. Under the direction of Theaster Gates, Professor of Visual Arts at UChicago, Place Lab aims to create mindful city building, to redefine community development through the use of art, and to question traditional modes of development. Place Lab seeks to be a catalyst for expanded impact at the intersection of arts, culture and public policy around the globe.

Arial map of Chicago“I learned early on that art has the capacity to change people’s perceptions—not only about a concept or an idea, but also about a place. What I’ve tried to do is leverage my understanding of art and how people view art to help them reimagine what can happen in poor neighborhoods."
Theaster Gates

Inspired by the work of Theaster Gates, Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago and director of Place Lab, the UChicago Summer Urban Studies Program: Placemaking, invites students to explore placemaking, community development, and public interest design through a combination of conceptual and hands-on, project-based methods.

Team taught by members of Archeworks, a Chicago-based design school, research lab, and think-tank, students will be given the tools, access, and accountability to achieve change through design. In collaboration, Archeworks and Place Lab, will model the emphasis of design as an agent of public change and mindful city building, the redefining of community development through the use of art, and the questioning of traditional modes of development.

In addition to weekly class sessions, students will engage in the practical act of placemaking through an internship in Chicago’s Washington Park. Internships will be supplemented with a weekly creative writing course, Literary Placemaking: Place, Voice & Point of View. Led by UChicago’s Writer’s Studio, this course will teach students to use creative writing as a tool to reflect upon, express and deepen the human element of place.

Interested in learning more? Contact us to request more information about the Urban Studies: Placemaking program.


Paola Aguirre

Paola AguirrePaola is founder of Borderless Studio, an urban design practice based in Chicago; she has been trained as an architect and urban designer, and her professional experience includes working with government, universities and architecture/urban design offices both in Mexico and the United States: University of Chicago's Place Lab, City Design Practice at SOM (Chicago), New York University's Office of Strategic Assessment, Planning & Design, and the Municipal Institute of Planning of Chihuahua. Paola's transnational background and strong collaborative approach focus her research and design practice on multidisciplinary exchange and urban systems integration. Paola received her Master of Architecture in Urban Design from the Harvard School of Design; she is also founder of The Borderless Workshop, a collaborative platform focused on rethinking the US-Mexico border region.


Andrew Balster, Executive Director

Andrew BalsterAndrew is a Chicago-based leader operating in the fields of architecture, urbanism, public policy, sociology, and academia. Working closely with influential leaders in the public and private sector, ranging from architects and planners to government officials and social activists, he creates research platforms with universities to explore many forms of cultural production. In practice, Andrew has worked on projects that are broad in typology and scale - ranging from small civic centers to super-tall towers to entire urban districts. Andrew was a Senior Designer at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in Chicago on several award-winning projects located all over the globe. He received an MScAAD and an MArch w/distinction from the University of Edinburgh in the UK. Andrew joined Archeworks as Executive Director in February 2015.


Andrew Moddrell

Andrew ModdrellAndrew Moddrell is a founding partner of PORT. He is currently leading a diverse range of public realm and urban design projects ranging in scale from a 600-acre masterplan for the Knoxville Battlefield Loop, to the design and construction of a 3-acre civic venue in Denver’s Paco Sanchez Park.

In addition to his work at PORT, Mr. Moddrell teaches seminars and design studios related to contemporary issues of urbanism as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Architecture and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Previously, he was the 2015-16 Eliel Saarinen Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, taught at the Architectural Association in London as part of the AA/UIC Visiting School and was a Research Associate at the Illinois Institute of Technology.


Program Requirements

  • Eligibility: current undergraduate at UChicago or another college or university
  • University housing is available


  • Applications accepted beginning mid-November
  • Rolling admissions: apply early; courses and housing can fill before the deadline
  • Submit all application materials by the end of April 2017
  • To apply, submit an application with personal statement, application fee ($40), and transcripts

Program Details

  • Program Dates: June 19 – July 28, 2017
  M T W R F
A typical weekly schedule:
A.M. Internship 4 hours Class 3 hours Field Day hours Internship 4 hours Internship 4 hours
P.M. Internship 3 hours Class 2 hours Field Day 3 hours Internship 3 hours Internship 3 hours


Program Costs



Student Life Fee (one time fee)

Double: $338 per week per person
Single: $413 per week per person

$249 per week per person (3 meals per day, 7 days per week)

Cost is dependent on length of study;

$195 per 3 week session to $703 for 10 weeks

Students who cannot prove that they have adequate health care coverage in the US must enroll in the University Student Health Insurance (U-SHIP) plan and will be billed accordingly.

Competitive, merit-based scholarship awards will be awarded. To apply, you will need to supply the following additional materials as part of your application:

  • Two (2) letters of recommendation, one (1) from faculty members who have taught you and one (1) from someone who can speak to your community/civic involvement and leadership qualities
  • 150-word statement about your urban research interests


Contact Us


1427 E 60th Street
Second Floor
Chicago, IL


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