Place-Based Design Inquiry

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that went into creating them.” Albert Einstein

            or is it: ‘We cannot design with the same language of place that created our problems.’


This workshop will critically and imaginatively engage design that is already embedded in the language of place—in maps, ecologies, histories, films, policies and plans. It will focus on terms bound in their constitution to a dominant identity, such as informal tied to formal, invasive opposed to indigenous, flow differentiated from settlement, water contained by land, east other to west. These ‘others’—informal settlements, invasives, water in the form of sea level rise, floods and scarcity, the political economies of the east, etc.—have come to disrupt and undermine habitation today. But these are not merely problems that design is called to solve; they are creations by design. Can we draw out this ‘design’ that is prior to the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and city planning as well as the humanities, science and social sciences that inform those disciplines. More importantly, can we engage the reality to which these terms correspond so as to derive another language of place, a language driven by the particular rather than the ‘other’?

The class probes the question: Where does design begin? Its driving assumption will be that people do not just see things differently, they see different things.

Students will engage a place of their choice through a particular site, an event, an object, a practice, or a conflict.