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Department of Architecture


Professor Sonia Hirt (Associate Professor, Urban Affairs & Planning, Virginia Tech and Harvard University)

Abstract: This lecture explores the human dimension of new city-building that has emerged in East Europe. Utilizing firsthand research culled from more than 100 interviews conducted primarily in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia —a city whose public spaces have unravelled over the last two decades—this lecture will examine the ways people live and experience the new, post-socialist urbanism. Also addressed are what these new spaces tell us about their builders, users, and inhabitants. Embracing an explicitly cultural approach, this lecture will suggest that disappointment with socialist and post-socialist conditions has led to mass scepticism toward the public domain (further resulting in a radical de-construction of public spaces), and will offer provocative insights into the complex relationship between society and space during times of fundamental change.

Biography: Sonia Hirt’s focus as a scholar and teacher is on exploring the complex social meanings of the urban built environment. She aspires to help enhance the quality of urban environments first by developing a richer understanding of the social processes and cultural values that influence their evolution, and second by provoking critical debates within the urban planning profession. She conducts research along three main themes: East European urbanism – resulting in two books:
Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-socialist city (2012) and Twenty Years of Transition: The Evolution of Urban Planning in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, 1989-2009(with Kiril Stanilov, 2009); comparative urban planning and land-use regulation – she is currently writing a book on the subject tentatively entitled Zoned in the USA: Urban Planning and the American Dream; and urban planning theory and history – she is especially interested in the ideas of Jane Jacobs and has edited a forthcoming volume, The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs (2012). Sonia Hirt holds a fellowship from the Institute of Society, Culture and the Environment. Last year she served as a visiting associate professor at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University.

Wednesday, 16 May, 2012 - 12:00 to 13:00
Event location: 
Lecture Room, Department of Architecture