Power & Place: Culture and Conflict in the Built Environment

This lecture/workshop course studies and analyzes processes and expressions of power in urban form and design in the North American built environment. Focusing on the topics of identity and differentiation that are expressed in spatial interventions across history, this course surveys historic and contemporary cultural conflicts that have emerged from regulatory processes, many of which result, intentionally or unintentionally in patterns of spatial exclusion.

This course explores the underlying power networks behind the transformation of the Los Angeles River and the development of its adjacent urban fabric. The story of who benefited from the water of the Los Angeles River initially expressed the power to control its distribution. From irrigation ditches for agriculture to aqueducts for the domestic water systems critical to a growing city and then to the reduction of the river to a flood control channel to ensure flood-free development, whoever controlled the river infrastructure shaped Los Angeles and the development in the river’s flood plain. We will investigate two zones relating to the river at the extreme ends of the 110. At the northern end—the Arroyo Seco—in affluent Pasadena and Altadena issues arising from the Devil's Gate Reservoir Restoration project have produced a conflict between dredging a reservoir to maintain flood protection and the destruction of habitat. At the southern end, in less affluent Wilmington and San Pedro—areas of heavy industry, oil production and one of the busiest container ports in the world— issues of water and air quality, sediment and pollution have produced conflicts between conservation and market forces creating a situation of environmental discrimination.

The course will develop cognitive methodologies (ways of thinking), research methodologies (familiarity with original historical sources and databases) and analytical means (modes of interpretation) associated with places where power and politics play critical and often undisclosed influence in shaping the built environment. The goal of the course is to foster an understanding of urban ethics and political awareness that can be applied to different parts of the built world, leading to a broader understanding of the dimensions of the cultural ecology of a place over time.

The limited enrollment course lottery will select 12 students to travel to Los Angeles, CA. Critical Conservation students will have priority for enrollment for travel. Travel will take place during spring break, March 23-31, and students who travel in this course will be term billed $200. The limited enrollment lottery is only to select the students who will travel on the trip. After the selection process for the trip this course will be changed to unlimited enrollment and students may enroll as they would any other lecture course.  Students may enroll in only one traveling course or studio in a given term, and are responsible for the cost of all meals and incidentals related to the trip, including visas and any change fees related to modifications to the set flight itinerary.