Fieldwork in Conservation Design

Architects practicing in the 21st century can no longer assume that most of their design projects will begin with an empty site. Several factors – among them an increased awareness of our professional role as cultural stewards, pressure from institutional and grassroots historic preservation interests, and tougher scrutiny of construction waste and landfills – have combined to limit the number of tear-down-and-start-from-scratch building projects to a small percentage of our work. Increasingly design commissions involve working productively with existing building stock. A broad spectrum of design approaches may be applied to this basic assumption, ranging from museum-quality historic preservation to radically transformative adaptation and reuse. Our allied design professions – landscape architecture and urban design – have long accepted that their design mandate involves working with and adding value to existing conditions whose features will remain legible. But where in our architectural education do we discuss the nuances of different approaches to working with existing conditions, and where to apply which approach? How do we decide what’s important to conserve, and what must be replaced or reconfigured? How do we formulate collaborative strategies to structure design decisions, including those that must be made on-the-go as selective demolition work reveals new surprises on site?

This seminar focuses on the physical and strategic dimensions of conservation design and adaptive reuse. We will study precedents for different approaches in readings, case studies from around the world, guest lectures, and several field trips to projects in the greater Boston area. Consulting with and learning from experts involved in different modes of conservation design, students will learn to hone their skills in interpreting value and meaning in existing construction. Working individually or in teams of two, students are asked to develop semester-long research projects based on sites in New England where new design interventions may be proposed. Projects will begin with developing a draft Historic Structures Report, later to be adapted into a strategic development plan. The format of final project deliverables is flexible: it may be a full-length report or a design project with written component. Students in all programs and disciplines are welcome.

Field trips
Scheduled field trips are an essential component of this course. While we will attempt to fit those field trips within the constraints of our weekly 3-hour class period at mid-day, some scheduling flexibility will be required of students in this course – there may be one or two weekend field trips, for example (to be determined in coordination with hosts’ and students’ schedules).