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 topics of identity and differentiation that are expressed in spatial interventions across history, this course surveys historic and contemporary cultural conflicts that emerged from private developments and regulatory processes, many of which result, intentionally or unintentionally in patterns of social exclusion.

The course will develop ways of thinking, research methodologies (familiarity with original historical sources and databases) and analytical means leading to modes of interpretation associated with places where power and politics have a critical but 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 any place, leading to a broader understanding of the dimensions of the cultural ecology of a place over time. 

2019’s site will explore Crenshaw Boulevard and its adjacent neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Twenty-three miles long from Wiltshire Boulevard to Palos Verde Crenshaw “begins and ends in wealth.” While the street’s history reveals dynamic demographic changes that accompany broader national forces—a white suburb becomes a black/Japanese community then becomes an inner-city black neighborhood and now contains a rising Latino population—the cultural landmarks of these eras endure. Narratives could be constructed around the architecture: Clarence Stein’s “Black Beverly Hills” Baldwin Village, Olmstead Brothers’ landmarked Leimert Park, Armet and Davis’s Googie architecture of the Japanese-owned Holiday Bowl or around the street’s prominence as a center of African American culture: Maverick Flats—the ”Apollo of the West,” low-rider culture and hip-hop, Destination Crenshaw, Marathon Clothing and Nipsey Russell.  In the once predominantly white Hawthorne, home of the Beach Boys, the early roots of the aerospace industry at Northrup Field is now home to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla. An example of the dynamic city-as-never-finished-process, this single street provides an opportunity to understand the intersection of race, ethnicity, culture and media at a local scale within the broad forces that shape LA.

Course work involves mapping, short videos. Familiarity with Adobe Creative Suite required.