Case Studies in Critical Conservation: Strategies for Curating the Built Environment

This course analyzes case studies in conservation as a means for developing projective strategies for interpreting and curating buildings, landscapes, and cities. More specifically, the course examines the use of design to conserve and convey the significance of sites. Students will conduct in-depth research and analysis of sites and their social landscapes with the aim of curating aspects of the built environment to reveal its inner histories. We will tackle the controversies inherent to urban conservation and attempt to develop proposals that engage these controversies rather than dismissing them. The first part of the course focuses on theoretical and historical readings and case studies that identify core issues relevant to interpretation planning, including material culture analysis, intangible heritage and cultural intimacy, visitor accessibility, assisting the public experience of significant sites, and policies affecting the interpretation and planning of sites. The second part of the course focuses more closely on the interpretation of urban sites, the various meanings of “conservation” in an urban context, and, in particular, the curation of the urban environment as an act of critical conservation.

Topics for class sessions include: Conservation by Design; The Historic City in Its Modern Setting; Conflict and Resolution Planning; Interpreting Modernism; Social Memory and Civic Memory; Industrial Archaeology in Principle and Practice; Public Celebration as Ephemeral Urban Planning; Reconstructing Identity; The Politics of Preserving the (Very) Recent Past; Crafting the Digital Archive; and Material Conservation and Its Social Histories.

Each student will complete a series of weekly project-based assignments that you will then discuss during the relevant class sessions. These assignments will culminate in a final project—the curation of a site of interest—that you will present during exam week.