Topographies: Cities, Landscape, and Architecture in the Formation of Cultural Ecology

A few basic premises make up the conceptual foundation for this course. One is that when topography is seen as both terrain and the trace of cultural practice it serves as the most fertile ground for the development of significant landscapes and buildings. Another is that in the design disciplines ecology is best understood when seen as both a scientific and cultural field of study. A third premise is that concern for both topography and cultural ecology is not new to our time, just newly remembered, because the better projects of the past always worked within this framework as the context of both creativity and relevance. The course will deepen historical understanding of our design traditions and it will prepare students to address a contemporary problem that is arguably more pressing than any other.Four basic themes will be addressed in the course: 1. the historical project of cultural ecology; 2. the successive waves of modernization and their impact on topography; 3. the interplay of the different topographical arts (materials and scales); and 4. the tension between accommodation and figuration.The lectures will be divided into three groups, each with its own kind of inquiry (theoretical, analytical, and interpretative): 1. basic questions: on topography, cultural ecology, and figuration; 2. simple models of cultural ecology; 3. representative examples of topography as cultural ecology, from different times and locations. The lectures in parts two and three will follow a historical path, beginning in the 14th and ending in the 21st century. Urban architecture and landscape will be the main focus of the talks, with examples from Europe, North, and South America. Students will be expected to prepare for the weekly lectures by working through assigned readings. Students will also be expected to prepare questions about the readings for class discussion, a couple of students each week. Lastly, students will write a research paper on a topic they propose and the professor approves.