This is a course in the arts of looking, coupled with an attention to sustainability. It treats the entire city of Amsterdam as a case study, asking: How do people in the Netherlands conceptualize, reorganize, and even create space? How do they use it, interact with it, rework it to meet new needs? How do we engage it as visitors and outsiders?

In False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good, architectural critic Aaron Betsky argues that since virtually every square centimeter of the Netherlands has been dredged from the ocean or otherwise engineered, space itself is precious, and therefore everything is designed to work in that space. Yet the ways Amsterdammers have imagined and used visual and physical space has changed radically over time, in uneven ways. Twenty-first century bicycle infrastructure, for example, re-configured the entire transportation landscape around the most conservative vehicle on earth—the “Dutch bike,” whose design remains frozen in its 1930s state.

We will use the United Nations’ “17 Goals” as entry points into key questions: How do contemporary architects and designers relate their work to the city’s centuries-old canal layout, respond to ideas from the Amsterdam School or De Stijl, and the modern international city? How do historical museums imagine the difficult past and narrate it for present-day audiences? How do descendants of immigrants from former Dutch colonies in Indonesia and the Caribbean—along with immigrants from North Africa and elsewhere—use the city’s arts and public infrastructure to articulate new ideas about themselves, each other, and what it might mean to be “Dutch” in this post-colonial, international context?

You’ll engage methods of visual analysis from art, design, architecture, museum studies, cultural studies, and anthropology. You will read, research, blog with peers, and write two essays revising and extending your writing from these posts.

Learning objectives 

The course helps students to expand their capacity to

  1. Synthesize and apply disciplinary methods for approaching the art and design of a sustainable urban space.
  2. Identify uses and limitations of these methods.
  3. Translate these academic ideas into the public intellectual work of a blog, attending to the broader audience and more flexible and creative possibilities for prose in that venue.
  4. Revise ideas and arguments in response to peers.


Readings will all be distributed through Blackboard E-Reserves or will be online. There are no books to purchase for this course.


You’ll need almost daily access to Blackboard, Zoom, WordPress and internet resources.

Because this is a small seminar where getting to know each other and relating in conversation is critical, we’ll have a cameras-on policy. If at any point and for any reason you need to turn your camera off, please let me know each time in the chat. If for any reason you need the camera off in general, please email me so we can discuss it.

The work of the course

Summer 6-week courses are more than twice as intensive as those held during the standard 15-week academic semester. Each week, you should expect to spend 6 hours in class and 12.75 hours outside class, doing independent learning.

For this online course, in-class time includes:

  • participating in synchronous meetings on zoom Mon-Thurs 12:00-1:30 pm Eastern Time.
  • participating in two live tutorials with peers about the draft essays, to be scheduled.

Outside class work includes:

  • reading, marking, and taking notes on assigned readings and visual materials
  • completing other “to do” assignments (e.g., taking a stroll, sketching, taking photographs)
  • posting to the course blog in prep for class
  • drafting and revising essays
  • completing peer review writeups on each essay

All told, this amount to 36 hours of class time and 76.5 hours out-of-class doing coursework. 

For each class, you’ll post before class a response to the readings/materials. In class, we’ll work with those materials.

Weeks 3 and 5 will each culminate in a 1000 word essay applying principles and methods from a choice of the readings and online sources. These are modeled on public art criticism, e.g. Roger Lewis’s essays on architecture in The Washington Post.  See Evaluation tab in menu for how these are graded.

I use the 4.0 scale for all assignment grades. This is the same 4.0 scale used for your GPA. Note that this does not translate to percentages (e.g., a 3.0 is not 75%).

Course grade

I use the 4.0 system for assignment grades and course grade. This is the same scale you’re used to for GPA (below). Blackboard will have columns for each category and a running grade column showing the weighted average of all grades entered to date.

Sixty percent of the course is based on completing the writing process, as laid out on the course calendar: posting to the blog before class time, attending and participating in class, and completing all components of the tutorials (posting drafts, completing peer responses, and participating in two scheduled tutorial sessions). Forty percent of the course is based on the completion of two essays (criteria to be laid out on assignment sheets).

  • Blog posts provide the class with fodder for discussion and provide you with draft material for your essays. You must complete what the assignment asks for and post it before class each time (no grace period). If you need to miss class, you can still get the blog points by posting any time before that class period. These will be based on a percentage of the total assigned (about 20 posts; percentage rounded to the nearest whole number, 4.0 scale rounded to nearest .01). The Bb grade will reflect that percentage, converted to the 4.0 scale. E.g., if you do 75% of the posts, you’ll get a 3.0 (a B) for 40% of the course grade.
  • Attendance/participation: You’ll earn the full credit here by attending all sessions or by making up any misses by the end of that week (watching the recording and emailing me a response: What did you learn from the readings and from your peers; what questions remain?). Each class not made up drops this grade by one full letter grade. If you miss and do not make up more than four sessions, you cannot pass the course.
  • Each essay will go through a drafting and revision process; you must complete the entire process and turn in both essays to pass the course.

Your final course grade is the average of your assignment grades, weighted like this:

  • Blog posts, 40%.
  • Attendance/participation, 15%.
  • Tutorial 1 (peer response), 7.5%
  • Tutorial 2 (peer response, 7.5%
  • Essay 1, 20%
  • Essay 2, 20%

Blackboard grade book will show you a running weighted cumulative grade. At the end, I round this to the nearest 0.01 points and use the scale below to assign the course letter grade. Because the cumulative grade is already rounded, there is no further rounding; e.g., a 3.49 does not round further; it is a B+.

  • A (4.0) 3.85+
  • A– (3.7)    3.50 – 3.84
  • B+ (3.3)  3.15 – 3.49
  • B (3.0)   2.85 – 3.14
  • B- (2.7)   2.50 – 2.84
  • C+ (2.3)   2.15 – 2.49
  • C (2.0)   1.85 – 2.14
  • C- (1.7)    1.50 – 1.84
  • D+ (1.3)   1.15 – 1.49
  • D (1.0)   0.85 – 1.14
  • D- (0.7)   0.50 – 0.84
  • F  (0.0)   0.00 – 0.49 &/or fails to complete all required work (below)

The most important thing is to keep on track of the work and make up any lapses as soon as possible. And please stay in touch with me and with your peers! If there is ever anything I should know about your ability to complete the work, please reach out.

Religious holidays: In accordance with University policy, you should notify me during the first week of the semester of your intention to be absent from class on any day(s) of religious observance. For details and policy, see:

Academic integrity

The George Washington University’s Code of Academic Integrity defines academic dishonesty as “cheating of any kind, including misrepresenting one’s own work, taking credit for the work of others without crediting them and without appropriate authorization, and the fabrication of information.” Recommended penalties for plagiarism and other violations range from failing the assignment to expulsion from the University.

Most narrowly (and legalistically), this means you must quote accurately, paraphrase fairly, and cite all sources completely. More broadly still, you should act ethically and honestly in all the work you do at the University. Accept responsibility for what you write. Openly acknowledge aid others give you in doing your work, whether through collaborative writing or critical feedback. You can do this in the text, in footnotes/endnotes, or in an acknowledgements page.

Student support

Although this is a distance course, GW student services are still available to you.

The Writing Center offers GW students free, one-on-one feedback from peer tutors for any kind of writing at any stage of the process and may have online options available to you. This includes online consultations for summer courses! They will have limited summer hours, so check early.

If anything—personal, family-related, institutional, whatever—ever interferes with your academic work in this course, please feel free to discuss it with me, the earlier the better.  You do not necessarily need to share personal information with me; just the fact that there is something happening would be helpful for me to know.  We can then decide how best to proceed or what resources GW might offer to help. You can always consult the Academic Advisor in your Dean’s office:

Columbian College of Arts & Sciences (CCAS)
Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA)
School of Business (GWSB)
School of Public Health & Health Services (SPHHS)
School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS)

If you require any specific accommodation to compensate for a disability, GW’s Disability Support Services requests that you contact them with documentation, 202-994-8250. Also, please talk with me about anything I can do to help facilitate your getting the most out of this course. Please note that traveling in European cities often involves stairs, cobble-stones, and other uneven surfaces. Also note that while bicycling is key to life in The Netherlands, I have designed an alternate equivalent assignment to stand in for our class bicycle infrastructure tour; please contact me for details if needed.

The University Counseling Center, 202-994-5300 (24/7), offers counseling and psychological services, supporting mental health and personal development by collaborating directly with students to overcome challenges and difficulties that may interfere with academic, emotional, and personal success. For additional information see

If you experience, witness, or hear about sexually assault while in this course, contact GW’s Sexual Assault Response Consultative Team at 202.994.7222 or In addition, the DC Rape Crisis Center hotline is open to you: 202.333.7273, and ASK DC’s free app can help you be prepared with “immediate access to the information needed most in the event of a sexual assault on one of DC’s nine college campuses — quickly, confidentially and free.”