Discourses and Methods: Conservation, Destruction, and Curating Impermanence

This seminar on critical conservation aims to develop concepts and strategies able to describe and curate the transitory and dynamic nature of architecture, landscapes and cities. It combines readings discussions on the philosophy of history and conservation with lectures on case studies in which the premises of permanence and stable meaning – the assumptions upon which the traditional conservation discipline operates – become material or theoretical impossibilities.

The first part of the course seeks to establish general theoretical parameters for a new conceptualization and experience of history and memory that will be illustrated through examples of the work of architects such as David Chipperfield and Mies Van der Rohe. The second part of the course focuses on natural and manmade destructions in order to reflect upon the myth of permanence. It includes the reassessment of remnants from natural catastrophes in Chile, or from warlike conflicts in the Middle East. The third section will address urban dynamics such as the pre-modern evolution of Mediterranean cities, radical urban proposals of ephemeral settlements in India, or the conservation of informal settlements in Brazil. These case-studies will be presented by GSD professors and external experts.

The readings seeks to lay the foundations for an alternative and contemporary theory of both historical interpretation and critical conservation building from Cesare Brandi, Alois Riegl, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Pierre Nora, Edward S. Casey, and Edward Said among others.

Students are responsible for (1) preparing analyses of the readings and leading class discussions, and (2) researching selected topics and cases to be presented in the final review of the class.