Julia Robinson

Professor, Architecture

Julia Williams Robinson, PhD, FAIA, a registered architect, has written journal articles, chapters and reports that cover a wide-ranging subject matter including architectural theory, design methods, sociocultural factors, and architectural pedagogy. 

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PhD, Delft Technical University, the Netherlands

M.A. Anthropology, University of Minnesota

Bachelor of Architecture, University of Minnesota (with distinction)

B. A., (Arch. Major), University of Minnesota

Notable Publications

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Complex Housing: Designing for Density

Dutch complex housing

Her forthcoming book Complex Housing: Designing for Density is to be published late summer of 2017.  The book reflects her study of contemporary Dutch housing between 1990 and 2010 inspired by seminars, semester-long studios in the Netherlands,  and especially the M-Term trips she organized for students and professionals in 2007 and 2008. The book introduces the Dutch approach to housing as exemplified in eight cases of what she terms complex housing. Typology is employed to examine and compare the cases, revealing the  design principles used to generate the projects.  Lessons are drawn from the exemplars to show the potential and limitations for implementation of the innovative Dutch approach to housing and urban design in other contexts.

Dutch Complex Housing Traveling Exhibition

In addition to the book, this material is being presented in an exhibition and a symposium.  The exhibition, Dutch Complex Housing, sponsored by the Goldstein Museum of Design, is to be held fall semester in the HGA Gallery in Rapson Hall at the University of Minnesota.  The exhibition will also be available as a traveling exhibition through 2020. The symposium, Complexity: Dutch and American Housing will take place , October 6-8, 2017, also at Rapson Hall, University of Minnesota. The symposium will bring design teams from four of the Dutch case studies to engage the housing community in a discussion of Dutch and American housing. The teams will include architects and developers as well as residents, politicians, urban designers and landscaper architects, depending upon the project.

Programming as Design

Programming As Design book by Julia Robinson

Central to Professor Robinson’s research and scholarship is an emphasis on the incorporation of knowledge development, dissemination and application within the discipline and practice of architecture.  Her monograph Programming as Design (written with J Stephen Weeks AIA in 1984) introduced a research orientation to the design process.  

The Discipline of Architecture

The Discipline of Architecture by Julia Robinson

The Discipline of Architecture (co-edited with Andrzej Piotrowski, 2001), promotes the role of the University as a site for knowledge development in collaboration with the profession.

Institution and Home: Architecture as a Cultural Medium

Institution and Home: Architecture as a cultural medium by Julia Robinson

Based on 15 years of research, Institution and Home: Architecture as a Cultural Medium, (2006) presents a body of knowledge about the effects of architecture on people inhabiting a range of residential settings.  It addresses architecture both as a medium for cultural continuity and change and as a medium for the empowerment of residents, especially those that are dependent on others or under supervision (e.g. people with developmental disabilities, people who are: elderly, homeless, hospitalized, incarcerated).

MRI: Development of an Instrument that Monitors Behavior

Additional recent research includes an interdisciplinary NSF project "MRI: Development of an Instrument that Monitors Behavior " that includes researchers from Computer Science and Engineering, the Medical School and the College of Design. On this study of how to apply computer tools to monitoring behavior of children with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in physical environments Professor Robinson is a Co-PI with N. Panikopoulos, G Bernstein, T Hadjiyanni, K Lim, and A Banerjee.


Robinson has been inspired by a desire for architecture to address the needs of people and society.

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Architecture 3711: Environmental Design and the Sociocultural Context

A primary teaching contribution has been a course that introduces students to the social aspects of design now titled: Architecture 3711: Environmental Design and the Sociocultural Context, that she developed in 1977 and has taught ever since, together with James Wheeler beginning in 2013. This pioneering course—in its many forms—has reached over 1500 students. It explores how design affects building inhabitants and urban life, as well as the nature of cultural differences. It tackles techniques for analyzing places – allowing students to study the social impact of existing environments.  It also examines the role of the profession in addressing social needs in both ordinary practice and public interest design.

View the course website

Other Studio Courses

At the same time much of Robinson’s studio teaching has covered a wide variety of topics, concentrated around urban design, dense housing and architectural programming, while consistently engaging community members (e.g. neighborhood groups, educators, planners, developers) and members of the architectural profession beyond the University through lectures and reviews as a way to share the knowledge that students gather in their work.

A variety of studios have applied Professor Robinson’s expertise on the Dutch approach to local and national urban design and housing, In 2008-9 Professor Robinson taught a studio and a catalyst focused on urban design and housing using participatory design for the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.  The Fall studio students focused on a 6-block area of Claiborne Avenue and cooperatively designed individual housing projects to fit into the selected site. The  Spring 2009 catalyst students made a PowerPoint presentation and video that described steps to take in determining the type of supermarket that would work on a site in the Lower Ninth Ward on a site on Claiborne Avenue. Both projects were presented to the community.  From 2010 to 2011 Robinson taught an undergraduate design studio with St Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff community exploring the implications of dense housing. In 2013  she taught a Graduate Student half semester module and in 2015 will teach an undergraduate studio both of which  investigate dense housing on the North Prospect Park site near the University of Minnesota campus. For several years she taught an undergraduate studio on program.

Presentation of Student work to Dayton's Bluff Community, Fall 2011
Presentation of Student work to Dayton's Bluff Community, Fall 2011

Other studio teaching has focused on the approach to architectural programming as design, especially in the undergraduate studios on program that she taught between 2009 and 2012, as well as graduate design modules in 2010 and 2014.

Teaching Areas

  • Theory: Social and Cultural Factors in Environmental Design, Architecture 3711 (Fall, 2009)
  • Graduate Design: Architecture 8252: New Orleans Studio, First Semester First Year Program (Fall, 2008), Principles of Architectural Programming, Design Module, Spring 2009
  • Thesis Instructor: Architecture 8777
  • Seminar: Architecture 5750: Affordable Housing, Responding to Culture/ Architecture 5750: Housing and Urbanism in the Netherlands

Other Noteworthy Accomplishments

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Selected Publications

  • Complex Housing: Designing for Density, book proposal accepted for publication, New York: Routledge, anticipated 2017.
  • “Dutch Complex Housing: Design for Density,” in  Aksamija, A., Haymaker, J. &
  • Aminmansour, A., eds.. Future of Architectural Research: Proceedings of    
  • the Architectural Research Centers Consortium (ARCC) 2015 Conference, Chicago,IL: Perkins+Will, 420-427. March 2015
  •  “The Challenge of Institution and Home,” invited chapter for Rethinking HabitatsMaking Sense of Housing (Repenser l’Habitat: Donner un Sens au Logement). Switzerland: Infolio, 131-170, 2015.
  • “Design for Density: An Analysis of Complex Housing in the Netherlands Using Typology” IAPS International Network Symposium Continuity and Change of Built Environment - Housing, Culture and Space across Life- spans, Conference Proceedings CD Rom, Daegu Korea 10-14 October 2011.
  • "A Learning Paradox: Bad Attitudes, Good Results” Primary author with Brad Cohen, Joel Brygger and Allison Johnson. Conference     Proceedings  of the Society on Teaching and Learning, London. 2008.
  • "Domesticity to Oppression: Values & Appropriate Housing Design,” Housing Symposium IAPS Conference Proceedings, Alexandria Egypt “The Role of Changing Faculty Conceptions in Course Improvement", 2006. 
  • "Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Incorporating Faculty Conceptions”   in Course Improvement” First author with Valerie Ruhe & Marc Beitz, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annual Meeting, London, 2006.
  • "Designing Research: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Large Lecture  Courses” 2nd author with Valerie Ruhe and Sue Wick, ibid, London (2006)
  • Institution & Home: Architecture as a Cultural Medium Transformations Series, Delft, Netherlands: Techne Press, 2006.    
  • "Completing the Story: Architectural Inventory as a method complementary to space syntax," with T. Thompson in Proceedings. 5th International Space Syntax Symposium, Delft 2005
  • "Incorporating Cultural Issues in Sustainable Housing Design The Case of the Hmong.” 2nd author with Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, In Handbook of Sustainability Research. W Leal Filho (Ed.). Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang, 2005.
  • "Institutional Space, Domestic Space, and Power Relations: Revisiting territoriality with space syntax," in Proceedings. 3rd International Space Syntax Symposium, Atlanta, 2001.
  • The Discipline of Architecture, Andrzej Piotrowski and Julia Williams Robinson, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2001.
  • https://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/P/piotrowski_architecture.html
  • "Architecture and Behavior or People with Intellectual Disabilities: Observational Methods and Housing Policy," T. Thompson, M. Egli & J. Robinson. Chapter in Behavioral Observation: Technology & Applications in Developmental Disabilities. T. Thompson, D. Felce and F.J. Symons. Paul H. Brookes Publishing, Baltimore, MD, 2000, 101-114
  • "Architecture and Stigma," Julia W. Robinson & Travis Thompson. In Measuring Enabling Environments, E. Steinfeld and G. Danford (eds.), New York, Plenum, 1999.
  • Design Guidelines for DNR Area Offices: Based on Post Occupancy Evaluations of Two Area Offices. (Report for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) Julia W. Robinson, John Carmody, Steve Weeks, Virajita Singh and Herzog/Wheeler Assoc. Minneapolis MN: Center for Sustainable Building Research, University of Minnesota, 1998.

Additional Accomplishments

In the past Robinson has participated with the Center for Sustainable Building Research and the Metropolitan Design Center in such project as the Single Family Case Demonstration Project and the Affordable Housing Initiatives: Case Study Prototypes that studied the implications of cultural differences and similarities for the design of housing. In 2003, with Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, she studied the housing needs of Hmong families that affected the design of the first prototype.  Robinson was also part of a team that evaluated the constructed prototypes.

At present she is a Senior Researcher on an NSF-funded interdisciplinary research project with colleagues from Computer Science, Psychiatry and Interior Design investigating how the physical environment can be employed to the diagnose and treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

In addition to her scholarly work, Robinson has displayed watercolors in several exhibits, most notably a solo exhibit “Near and Far” held at the Architecture Library in 2007.

Julia Robinson

Julia Robinson


151 Rapson Hall
89 Church Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
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