Ruins, Memory and the Imagination

This studio will navigate the turbulent waters where the currents of History and Architecture converge. While such merger has been a constant impulse in architecture’s progress through the ages, our studio happens at a peculiar moment when such relationship has acquired a very unique character. Indeed, as in no other time as in the present we have found Architecture in such perplexing contradictory relationship with History: on the one hand the practice of architecture is under intense social and political pressures to relate positively to “a history” (be it to its own, to the history of a given context or to that of a narrative, just to name the most common cases that dominate the field), while on the other, the discipline of architecture has become utterly indifferent, even oblivious to history itself. This will be a studio in which such disconcerting dichotomy between a social demand for concurrence and an intellectual stand of divorce will be dealt with by direct engagement with the discourse, polemics and techniques of conservation and heritage policy. In other words, each design would have to take a critical stands vis-a-vis theory, ideology and technology.

Specifically, we will be looking at intervening in a vast, multilayered territory in the Northern Neck of Virginia, whose dense architectural, natural and historical significance need to be reinterpreted by design interventions in order to reveal their stories to all. Some of the topics to be studied and explored would be a) theories and ideologies of historic preservations b), building conservation technology, c) the phenomenon of cultural tourism, d) the tense relationships between historical and ecological conservation, e) contemporary meaning and cultural role of architectural ruins, etc. In particular, three historical layers need to be sorted out and revealed as central themes of interpretation: 1) at its center are the existing architectural ruins of an eighteen century structure and the stories they imply: dense chapters of American history in its revolutionary years, with its cultural manifestations inscribed in the institution of The Plantation and its architecture, 2) the earlier layers of pre-colonial aboriginal occupation of the site by the Rappahonnock Indian Tribe, and 3) the current cultural significance of a rich, imposing natural landscape rich in geological strata, flora and fauna.

The design vehicles will be the requirement to situate and design: i) a Conservation Research Laboratory, ii) a Visitor’s center, iii) a Visitors River Harbor as well as the design of iv) all elements necessary to structure and present the site narratives to the visitor.

This studio could be titled “The Architect as a Story Teller” but that’s the instructor’s title and since the studio promotes individual interpretations, the students should find their own title for the narrative they would develop.

Students will be urged to enroll in the concurrent course “04475: Case Studies in Critical Conservation: Architecture and Cities” for which they will receive preferential enrollment.

A partially funded three-day visit to the one thousand acre site in Virginia’s is tentatively planned in February.

Eligibility: This is a content-laden studio, so Architecture Students interested in theory, history, and in the practice of intellectual argumentation are encouraged to take it.