The Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement (SIGUS) links housing and community interests in the Department of Architecture and Department of Urban Studies, focusing on developing areas worldwide. SIGUS explores the new professionalism emerging for architects and planners, and concentrates on service, participation and non-traditional client groups. We offer workshops and short courses, and carry out research and outreach programs stressing participatory methods in promoting affordable and equitable housing. Established in 1984, SIGUS grew out of the rethinking of method, practice, and teaching driven by the rapidly expanding informal sector in both developing and developed countries.

SIGUS benefits from its extensive international links with practitioners, professionals, and faculty in governments, research institutions, NGOs, professional firms, and other academic institutions. These strong connections provide access to state-of-the-art practice, and support collaborative engagement in a wide range of activities.

SIGUS is coordinated by Dr.-Ing Reinhard Goethert and supported by student assistants from the Department of Architecture and Department of Urban Studies and Planning. The group is supported by faculty from throughout the MIT community in response to specific program demands.

SIGUS grew out of the Urban Settlement Design Program (USDP), a 2-year second professional degree program, initiated in 1965 with a grant from the Ford Foundation. Horacio Caminos, John F.C. Turner, and John Steffian were the founding faculty.

An alumnus writes. "The Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement (SIGUS) has been the world's forefront research engine in development studies for almost 4 decades. It's focus on developing areas worldwide makes the program one of the world's most prominent in an interdisciplinary study of physical planning and design, with practical focus and 'hands-on' approach which is the landmark of SIGUS. Alumni from this program have gone to become very successful professionals in the field making a "real difference" to the world at large. For an institution devoted to serve public needs like MIT, the importance of SIGUS marks a milestone of MIT's dynamic intellectual contribution."

-Nomination text for MIT's 150 Exhibition 2011
MIT Museum


Principal Research Associate in Architecture
Room: 9-369
Phone: (617) 253-2402

Goethert focuses his interests in methodologies of settlement design and housing. He designs site and services housing projects and develops policies for housing the low-income majority in developing countries, including developing tools for designers, training programs for technical staff, research programs, and monitoring strategies for agencies. He teaches courses on urbanization, design, and housing in developing countries and is the director of SIGUS, a school-wide program focused on the profession and housing.

He is a Visiting Tutor at Oxford Brookes University in England. As sole designer or in partnership, Goethert has designed approsimately 15 site and services housing developments in Central and South America, Africa and Asia. He has served as a consultant to internationaql development agencies, including The World Bank, US Agency for International Development, German Technical Cooperation Agency, United Nations Center for Housing, United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Health Organization, as well as to the housing ministries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Burma, Puerto Rico, Chile, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Egypt, Syria, and Ethiopia, among others. Much of his approach is documented in "Urbanization Primer," with Horacio Caminos (MIT Press, 1978), and "Making Micro Plans: A Community Based Process in Programming and Development," with Nabeel Hamdi (Intermediate Technology Publications, 1988).

A recent book with Nabeel Hamdi, "Action Planning for Cities: A Practical Guide" (John Wiley and Sons Press) focuses on participatory community development, drawing on extensive case studies from around the world and is available in English and Chinese. "Upgrading Urban Communities: A Resource for Practitioners," prepared for the World Bank/UN-Habitat Cities Alliance, has just been published as a website and as a CD.

Goethert's current focus is on the participation of private enterprise in assisting the underserved low income majority, and in participatory planning methodologies at the community level linked to strategic city planning. Current projects include preparation of websites and CDs on Urban Upgrading and on Urban Environmental Management, support to governments through computer aided 'distance learning' and development of field tools for practitioners. Recent initiatives have drawn in children as key elements in the urban future.

Goethert, who was appointed in 1970, received the American Institute of Architects Education Honors for the SIGUS program in 1989. He earned his BArch from North Carolina State University in 1968, MArch from MIT in 1970, and Ph.D in City and Regional Planning from Rheinisch-Westfalische-Technische Hochschule, Aachen, West Germany in 1985. For his thesis, he was awarded the Friedrich-Wilhelm Foundation Prize. In October 1997, Goethert was named recipient of the United Nations Habitat Scroll of Honour, an international award for "outstanding contributions in the development of innovative methodologies, training and field practice in Community Action Planning."