Michael Piper is an Assistant Professor of urban design and architecture and director of the Master of Urban Design program at the University of Toronto. His research and teaching focus on the relationship between design, equity, and political-economic contexts with particular attention on the social and formal transformation of North American suburbs. He is a co-founder and director of tuf lab, a research group that brings together urban design and urban planning faculty at the U of T to explore wicked (tough) problems of contemporary urbanization. The group’s research contributes analysis of built form to social, political, and economic knowledge about cities. Piper is also a founding partner of dub studios, a design studio with offices in Toronto and Los Angeles where he manages urban design projects. Current projects and coursework focus on imagining more just and equitable housing scenarios for North American single-family suburbs and cultural spaces of citizens underrepresented in mainstream design and planning.
Piper is coordinating ReHousing, a research project about transforming single-family homes into multi-family housing. This research builds on related work in the exhibition Housing Multitudes: Reimagining the Landscapes of Suburbia. Coursework related to this topic include: Building Typologies of the Missing Middle, a graduate course offered in collaboration with the School of Cities, and ReBuilding the Yellowbelt (ARC200), an undergraduate drawing and representation studio for which 200 students redraw and reimagine single-family-type neighbourhoods across Toronto. In aggregate, these projects seek to counter patterns of segregation and exclusion that have been typical of the production of North American suburban regions.
Cultural research and service include Engage-Design-Build, an outreach/access program that Piper co-coordinates in partnership with the Toronto District School Board. The program connects with underrepresented youth to develop design, art, and construction projects about and within their communities. In collaboration with members of tuf lab, he also studies and learns from immigrant and racialized communities who have appropriated and recreated many North American suburbs.
His writing has been published in Threshold, Scapegoat, Monu and 306090, and he currently has an essay under review for the Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA). His design and analytical work has been exhibited at the Seoul Biennale and the Rotterdam Biennale. He was awarded a SSHRC connection grant in 2015, and the Lefevre Fellowship at Ohio State University in 2011.
Piper’s design practice and research explores pragmatic alternatives to existing urban planning policy and real estate practices with the aim of producing civic urban form and space. Dub studios has been invited to prepare planning studies / design proposals for different public entities. The firm was commissioned by New York City’s Department of Transportation to design and build modular street games for the NYC Plaza Program (2016). Dub was also invited to submit a design proposal for the Middle City Passages workshop, on behalf of Metrolinx, the regional transit authority in Toronto (2015). Additionally, it was one of four firms invited to submit designs for the Parking Plus Design Challenge, sponsored by the Long Island Index, and completed on behalf of the Mayor’s office for the suburban town of Patchouge (2014). This more recent work builds on ideas explored in several related design competitions and commissions. As principal of Dub studios, Piper was the project manager and lead designer for two large scale urban design commissions for the centre of downtown Durham, NC (2005-2010). The two projects consisted of eight blocks over 10 acres and a total floor area of 900,000 square feet.