Case Studies in Urban Conservation: Principles & Narratives of an Emerging Discipline

Traditional conservation practice is increasingly proving inadequate to address the socio-cultural, economic, and environmental challenges facing the diverse array of sites and districts currently in need of management and renewal. This is particularly true in the evolving field of Urban Conservation, where conserving and enhancing use values in the broadest sense from the level of the building, street and landscape to the district and city, are critical determinants of future success.

Focus on creative thinking is therefore necessary to accommodate both the volume and often erratic quality of the resources under consideration, but more profoundly to acknowledge that science and scholarship address only some of the full range of values and issues that must be considered to ensure the success of any intervention. While this approach does not circumvent the normal processes of assessment and evaluation of physical resources – both buildings, and sites, it does recognize the essential need for a deeper understanding of the social and economic factors that help define place. Subsequently, we may then apply critical overlays to identify possibilities for syntheses that balance repair and conservation with appropriate future use, perception, and socio-economic value.

Case Studies in Urban Conservation will build upon the philosophical and practical underpinnings of the fall semester Building and Urban Conservation course (not a prerequisite) and will explore the range of scales from building and landscape to campus and neighborhood or district. The curriculum will be anchored by lectures that survey contemporary and historic theories of urban conservation followed by a series of Case Studies looking at interventions into a variety of traditional and modern places given by the instructor and an international roster of guest practitioners and scholars, who, will address current theoretical, political, and practical issues facing the renewal of the built environment.

Readings will be assigned weekly and serve as the basis for regular in-class student-led discussion, and there will be a short, written mid-term exercise.  Class participation is an important pedagogical component as we will be exploring ideas, concepts and a range of possible outcomes to different kinds of interventions at different building and site scales. The final project will be an analytical case study of the student’s choosing of an example of a completed or ongoing urban conservation project, or alternatively, to define a project for a potential site that could benefit from the application of conservation methodology to the revitalization of an urban complex, neighborhood, or district to better accommodate contemporary use while sustaining its essential character.  

The course is open to all GSD students and is geared to anyone in any discipline who is interested in the role of conservation – as both a practical and theoretical tool – in helping to understand, sustain and enhance the existing built environment.