Power & Place: Culture and Conflict in the Built Environment

This course addresses processes and expressions of power in the North American built environment. Focusing on topics of identity and differentiation that throughout history are expressed in spatial interventions and boundaries, this course uncovers historic and contemporary cultural conflicts that emerged from development and regulatory processes, many of which intentionally or unintentionally result in patterns of social exclusion.

The course develops ways of thinking, research methodologies (familiarity with original historical sources and databases) and analytical means enabling evaluation and understanding of places where power and politics have had a critical but often undisclosed influence in shaping the built environment. The goal 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 a place over time. It is particularly valuable for researching how to understand a place for MDes research or thesis projects. Short videos are used to construct narratives about the meaning of the research. Videos go viral, papers rarely do.

2022’s site explores the communities surrounding the Rio Hondo Confluence Area project in Southeast LA identified in the Gehry Partners Masterplan for the Los Angeles River. The project addresses how the LA River channel, a 51-mile publicly owned right of way that has served as critical infrastructure for flood-risk-management, can be extended to benefit social, cultural, and ecological communities by creating resilient systems that address climate change, population growth, resource scarcity, and social inequity. The Rio Hondo/South Gate communities once provided jobs and housing for white working-class families. Today these communities struggle with de-industrialization, toxic environments, lack of recreational and cultural spaces, and a density of marginalized populations vulnerable to displacement. Can the new public infrastructure reverse this trajectory or will it accelerate displacement and gentrification? The seminar will research power forces embedded in the communities over time and new forces that the public infrastructure introduces to transform and revitalize.

 This course includes a required site visit to Los Angeles, which is scheduled to take place during spring recess. The cost of the trip will be $250 (term-billed) plus meals and incidentals. All course travel is subject to change or cancellation. All travelers must follow University and local travel guidance pertaining to COVID-19, and should read through the GSD Travel and Safety Guidelines webpage prior to enrolling in a course with a travel component.

Format: 3 hours in-person
Evaluation: attendance, participation, assignments
Prerequisites: Adobe Creative Cloud
Open to all; Critical Conservation requirement; preference for MDes


Up to twelve seats will be held for CC Area students.




This course will be taught online through Friday, February 4th.