All Academic Programs
Carpenter Center and Fogg Museum


The Critical Conservation concentration has been formed to shape a broader conversation about design and development that engages twenty-first-century questions of environmental, social, and economic sustainability to serve an ever more pluralist and global society. Twentieth-century historic preservation was conceived as a corrective to the failures of anti-cultural modernism and urban renewal and was largely based in the certitude of a dominant hegemony ruled by a single elite culture. Critical Conservation addresses the twenty-first-century world of multiple cultures, diverse tastes, and bottom-up participation fueled by ever-changing social media and media buzz. The imperatives of global sustainability, technological advances, and a new wave of technology-driven obsolescence create a new context. The conversation is no longer about the tension between past and future. The Media Age demands an understanding of the complex simultaneity that incorporates different, competing versions of the past and a yet-to-be realized future.

Critical Conservation positions its students to understand and lead a new process aimed at creating progressive, open, and accessible urban places. It broadens the discussion by incorporating multiple perspectives from designers, planners, anthropologists, historians, real estate investors and developers—the professions that shape the modern world. Critical Conservation understands urbanism as a process that encompasses the enduring aspects of the built environment—architecture, landscape, and infrastructure—as well as the dynamic processes of cultural and social systems. We use the term conservation not in the sense of fine art restoration, but rather in line with the scientific principle of conservation of energy, recognizing that the total energy in the urban system remains constant over time, changing modes and forms in response to circumstances. 

As a distinct concentration area within the MDesS program, Critical Conservation prepares participants to create strategies and lead conversations that transcend a simplistic past vs. future dialectic, to negotiate underlying forces and political agendas, and to develop a nuanced understanding of the construction of historical narratives through a combination of theory and original research.

This is not a design- or studio‐based program, rather it is a post-professional program that seeks creative and open-minded individuals from the global arena: design professions—architecture, landscape, urbanism, and planning; business fields including real estate and development; historians, archaeologists and architectural historians; writers; media, critical, and cultural consultants to create twenty-first-century Critical Conservation practices. Students may choose to emphasize the historical, cultural, sociopolitical, economic, theoretical, or technological dimensions of conservation by constructing their own program of study from course offerings at the GSD as well as from History of Art and Architecture, Anthropology, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Sociology, Public Health, and other departments in the University. 

Area Coordinators
Michael Hays, Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory
Susan Snyder, Lecturer in Architecture
George Thomas, Lecturer in Architecture

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