Mini course at UFPE on the social sciences and heritage conservation

UFPE_presentationsWhile I’m working on my research in Olinda, Brazil, I will be participating in a “mini course” in the Urban Development Program (MDU) at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE). In this course, I’ll be lecturing on a number of topics that address critical heritage studies theory, the use of social science research methods in the conservation of the historic environment, and historic preservation practice in the United States:

September 22: Social science and participation in the processes of conservation

  • “Why do old places matter? What the social sciences can tell us.”
  • “Principles for integrating social science research methods into built heritage conservation practice.”

October 6: Theoretical issues of conservation

  • “Orthodox vs. heterodox: conservation processes focused on materials and values”
  • “Phenomenology of age value in the built environment”

October 20: The North American experience in conservation

  • “Laws and regulations for conserving the built environment in the United States”
  • “The ‘Main Street Approach’ to downtown revitalization in the United States”

The Urban Development Program at UFPE, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, has an “integrated urban conservation” track for master’s and doctoral students. Students who choose this concentration focus on

concepts and practices of sustainable development and integrated conservation. It examines the historical dimensions, material and immaterial, that make up the city, and includes the study of natural and built heritage that comprises the urban landscape and public open spaces. It adopts methods, techniques and models, such as historical analysis, environmental and landscape assessment, management models for the conservation of urban and suburban environmental structures, historical construction techniques, techniques of impact assessment, negotiation models between social actors, and technical systems for monitoring and control.”

What I particularly appreciate about this program is its holistic approach to landscape, which is also evident in the way that architectural studios are conducted, including at the undergraduate level. Architecture students work on real-world scenarios that consider the kind of social, cultural, environmental, and geographical contexts that are often missing from such studios in the United States. (In the United States, architectural studios tend to assume that the site is a “blank slate” with few constraints; the idea is that introducing too many real world variables, especially early in student’s education, might destroy creativity and impair the ability to properly learn theory.) As part of the studio process, architecture students at UFPE regularly go and talk to people in the communities where an intervention is being considered in order to understand the sociocultural context of the proposed design–a step that is quite common in urban planning and design programs in the United States, but altogether absent from architecture programs. (The exception are architectural programs that incorporate an environmental design and behavior/social science component, which is far from common). In addition, a single studio course, which often includes heritage conservation components, is taught by several faculty members from different disciplines. An architecture student therefore obtains a useful interdisciplinary perspective in these studio courses that is rather unique based on my experience of how students are trained in the United States.

MDU/UFPE is affiliated with CECI (Center for Advanced Studies on Integrated Urban Conservation), which offers continuing education courses on materials conservation and heritage management in Olinda, Brasil. Many of the UFPE students contribute to the research and work of CECI. CECI also has a peer-reviewed publication, City and Time that focuses on integrated urban conservation.

I’m looking forward to participating in the MDU program here at UFPE and hope to engage the students in some interesting discussion on the topic of the conservation of the historic environment and the social sciences.

Leave a Reply