Symposium Explores Transformative Potential of Medium-Density Housing

October 11, 2023
Radical Middle Grounds will bring architects, historians, urban designers, and economists together for a day of conversations about housing forms and processes in the middle grounds between (suburban) house and (urban) apartment.
Radical Middle Grounds event poster featuring the words "Radical Middle Grounds" in green laid on top of a green aerial rendering of a cluster of housing units

For at least the past decade, the “missing middle” has been cited as a potential solution for addressing America’s housing affordability crisis. Here in Austin and in cities around the country, this medium-density housing range offers an alternative to the sprawling suburbs of the single-family home and dense multifamily apartment blocks of our city centers. However, while the missing middle has opened up an important middle ground for housing and urbanism, it has largely remained a project without a discourse—explored without the theoretical depth or the creative imagination needed to build momentum towards new trajectories of practice. 

On Friday, November 10, Assistant Professor Martin Hättasch and the Center for American Architecture and Design will open up this discourse at their symposium “Radical Middle Grounds: New Agendas for Medium Density-Housing.” The day-long event will bring academics and practitioners together for wide-ranging discussions about the relationship between individuals, architecture, housing, and the city and the (almost) infinite spatial and organizational malleability of the in-between density range. It will also offer a preview of themes that will be examined by a forthcoming book of the same name, to be released in 2024.

Symposium organizer Martin Hättasch has received national recognition for his scholarship and teaching related to medium-density housing. In 2018, his graduate-level integrative studio “A Home is Not a House” received Architect Magazine’s 2018 Studio Prize; in 2022, he received the ACSA/AIA Housing Design Education Award for his Comprehensive/Integrative Design Studio sequence offered between 2018 and 2021. 

“Housing is an incredibly complex enterprise that involves many sets of expertise, disciplines, and dynamics—and the current housing crisis makes it more apparent that customary ways of producing housing have reached an impasse,” he said. “Any new approach will have to involve a certain kind of out-of-the-box thinking, possibly new forms of out-of-the-box interdisciplinary collaboration, and I see an opportunity to re-insert questions of design into the housing debate.” 

Such out-of-the-box thinking and interdisciplinary dialogue is represented in the range of backgrounds and areas of expertise of symposium participants, who will present work in three sessions—or “middle grounds”—over the course of the day. 

Between Unit and City: Housing as Urbanism, moderated by Assistant Professor Liang Wang. Featuring:

Scott Colman, Rice University School of Architecture: Scott Colman is a historian, theorist, and critic of architecture and urbanism committed to the legacy and potential of a progressive worldview and its architectural and urban manifestations. He has taught architecture and urban history, theory, and design at the Rice University School of Architecture since 2010 and oversaw its M.Arch Design Thesis program between 2011 and 2021. He is the author of Ludwig Hilberseimer: Reanimating Architecture and the City (Bloomsbury, Visual Arts, 2023). 

Dean Almy, The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture: Dean Almy is a professor and the Sinclair Black Endowed Chair in the Architecture or Urban Design at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, where he currently serves as the director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design. He is a research fellow at the Center for Sustainable Development and founding director of the Texas Urban Future Lab. He has previously held positions as chair for the Design Commission, vice-chair of the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board for the City of Austin, and director of the Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture at UT Austin. 


Between Politics and Form: Housing as Process, moderated by Associate Professor Jake Wegmann. Panelists include: 

Marc Norman, Schack Institute of Real Estate, New York University. Marc Norman is the founder of the consulting firm Ideas and Action and the associate dean of the Schack Institute of Real Estate at New York University. He has over twenty-five years of experience in community development and finance, working at for-profit and nonprofit organizations, consulting firms, and investment banks and consulting with organizations throughout the United States and the world. Prior to his current positions, he has held leadership roles as managing director at Duvernay + Brooks, LLC, vice president of Deutsche Bank’s Community Development Finance Group, and director of UPSTATE: A Center for Design, Research and Real Estate at Syracuse University.

Susanne Schindler, ETH Zürich/Harvard GSD: Susanne Schindler is an architect and historian focused on the intersection of policy, finance, and design in housing. Since 2019, Schindler has been senior lecturer and co-director of the MAS Program in the History and Theory of Architecture at ETH Zürich. The research project “Cooperative Conditions: A Primer on Architecture, Finance, and Regulation in Zürich” was produced with Anne Kockelkorn and MAS students. It was exhibited at the 2021 Venice Biennale and is forthcoming as a book in 2024. Schindler lives in Cambridge Massachusetts, and currently also teaches at Harvard GSD.


Between Typology and Invention: Housing as Design, moderated by Assistant Professor Martin Hättasch. Featuring: 

Neeraj Bhatia, California College of the Arts/The Open Workshop: Neeraj Bhatia is an associate professor and director of the urbanism research lab The Urban Works Agency at the California College of the Arts and is founding principal of The Open Workshop, a multidisciplinary design workshop focused on critically re-examining the concept of an open work, first posited by Umberto Eco in 1962. With expertise ranging from architecture to urban design, The Open Workshop uses a multidisciplinary approach to provide innovative project-specific design solutions. Recognized for its design research, the office has a record of complex projects that engage multiple systems and stakeholders.

Brian Phillips, ISA (Interface Studio Architects): Brian Phillips, FAIA, is the founding principal of ISA and serves as creative director across all aspects of the firm’s work. He earned his MArch from the University of Pennsylvania and BS from the University of Oklahoma. He has lectured widely on urbanism, housing, and the work of ISA. Brian was awarded a 2011 Pew Fellowship in the Arts and was named an Emerging Voice by the Architectural League of New York in 2015. He is a lecturer at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and has taught visiting studios at the University of Miami and Parsons School of Design.

Together, the discourse during the symposium and the forthcoming CENTER series book from the Center for American Architecture and Design will explore housing as a vector for the transformation of existing norms and established biases. By speculating on and experimenting within this “middle ground” (both in terms of housing types and the middle grounds between disciplines), the hope is that this space can emerge as a new epicenter and can support innovative housing solutions in response to the housing crises we face today. 

“Radical Middle Grounds: New Agendas for Medium-Density Housing” will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Friday, November 10, 2023, in the Mebane Gallery of Goldsmith Hall on The University of Texas at Austin campus. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, including parking and accessibility, visit: 


Friday, November 10, 2023 
10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. 
Mebane Gallery, Goldsmith Hall 
The University of Texas at Austin 
Free and open to the public






Martin Hattasch
Martin Hättasch




Scott Colman
Scott Colman
Dean Almy Headshot
Dean Almy



Marc Norman
Marc Norman © Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau


Susanne Schindler
Susanne Schindler



Neeraj Bhatia
Neeraj Bhatia
Brian Phillips
Brian Phillips