Power & Place: Culture and Conflict in the Built Environment

This 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. 

2021 will explore Central Avenue and its adjacent neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Central’s rich presence in music from LA’s jazz scene from the 1920s-50s at the northern end to 1980s gangsta rap in Compton embodies a cultural narrative that tells the story of racial-social-cultural relations in Los Angeles. Beginning in Little Tokyo it passes through the once vibrant commercial heart of African American LA to the intimate now largely-vanished community life described by Walter Mosely’s fictional Easy Rawlins to the scars of racial violence in Watts. Today the predominantly Latino populations reflect LA’s shifting demographics: “This lively tree-banked street next to Central Avenue, … persists despite its new ghost-town feel. Beauty parlors specializing in a “Texas press and curl” and soul food cafes now coexist with discotecas and mariscos and taco stands. And behind it all, lending a somewhat surreal backdrop, the downtown skyline hovers like Oz.” An example of the dynamic city-as-never-finished-process, this amazing street provides an opportunity to understand the intersections of race, ethnicity, culture, and media at a local scale within the broad forces that shape LA.

Format: 3 hours synchronous. Power & Place is not a lecture course. The nature of cultural inquiry this course presents depends upon interruptions and questions answered in real time. It is a research and methodology course whose success depends upon the interactive discussion of readings, other media, and visual prompts but most importantly the discussion is about the research work students present, what it means, how to expand it, what to pursue as it develops. 

Evaluation: attendance, participation, assignments 

Prerequisites: Adobe Creative Cloud

Note: the instructor will offer live course presentations on 01/19-01/21. To access the detailed schedule and Zoom links, please visit the Live Course Presentations Website. If you need assistance, please contact Estefanía Ibáñez.