Culture, Conservation and Design

This proseminar addresses issues of Critical Conservation, an evolving discipline that illuminates the bridge between Cultural Meaning, Identity and Context as part of the design process. Critical Conservation explores the multiple forces that underlie contemporary life and the creation of places. The field addresses issues of social justice as applied to the design of places: whose history is being told; whose future is being created; who benefits; who is included and excluded by the process of creating new designs in an existing context? The goal of the course is to broaden the student’s understanding of the cultural dimensions of a place and to understand how we use / misuse the past and how we value the present.

The course is organized around three topics. The Dynamic Present addresses the inherent dynamism of modernity and tradition in creating personal and group identities. It investigates questions about the past, history, permanence, temporality, obsolescence and authenticity and applies them to understanding the identity of places. Place & Cultural Identity addresses the social construction of meaning associated with group identities, places, artifacts and history. Issues include history, heritage, nostalgia, authenticity and their intersection with regulatory agencies and preservation standards that are used to attempt to control context by design and identity narratives. Conservation Uses & Abuses addresses how conservation is used to create, control, and transform places. The roles of ancestor worship, government use of racial zoning, urban renewal, creation of tourist destinations, the stigmatization of the other, and private use of exclusionary amenities will be examined to understand how groups use underlying agendas to manifest power, shape and enforce group identity and exclude the other. The seminar is open to all GSD students and required for Critical Conservation students. There are no prerequisites. Course work includes a one-page synthesis of weekly reading assignments, three case study presentations with short papers and a paper / presentation of a final research project framed in the topics explored in the seminar.