Conserving the City Symposium

Conserving the City : Critical history and urban conservation

School of Design, University of Pennsylvania

Meyerson Hall, Room B3, April 28, 2012

Practices of urban conservation have long been part of the discourse on city building, design and preservation. While conservation may have the reputation of being one of the quieter notes in urbanism, rebuilding, protection, interpretation, regeneration and renewal have long played important and shifting roles in the management and design of urban environments large and small. Urban conservation has rarely, though, been at the center of scholarship and urban design practice.  This symposium, the first in a series envisioned to advance knowledge about urban conservation, explores histories of urban conservation thinking and practice in a wide range of social and historical settings. The symposium proceeds from the hypothesis that urban conservation is a cross-cultural and trans-historical phenomenon of considerable moment and warrants greater research attention. 

The dearth of critical historical literature on urban conservation is perhaps not surprising.  The conservation field, as a set of institutions and practices, was formalized relatively recently, and is still struggling to define itself relative to other design and technical specialties.  The chronological and geographical breadth of the field is daunting: more than two centuries of thought and activity in Europe and the United States, in Europe's colonies, and by the mid-20th century, across the globe.   Moreover, its history crosses the boundaries of many disciplines: architecture, urban planning, art historiography, urban and landscape history, the social sciences, and the various branches of conservation studies.  Specialists from these disciplines have worked together and competed against one another, to define and claim authority over the "historic."  Building a critical history of conservation will require:

  • -  a history of ideas, developed alongside, and informed by, art and architectural historiography, the social sciences, and other  disciplines;
  • -  a history of practice, developed in the hands of architects, conservators, craftsmen, and administrators; and
  • -  a history of institutions spanning educational, professional, legal, cultural, and economic sectors.

The narrative that emerges at the intersection of these threads - a story of people, ideas, movements, policies - will help us better understand contemporary theory and practice.  Speakers will address the following kinds of questions:

o   How has urban conservation been influenced by the conservation of artifacts and monuments?  Or by the exigencies of urban development?

o   How have ideas about conservation been disseminated from place to place?

o   How have the core principles of conservation been transformed into practice, and how has practice informed theory?

The symposium will attract historians, preservationists, urban designers, and others interested in historic environments, their conservation, and their relation to urban vitality.  Our goal is to establish historical and contemporary terms of debate in understanding the source, evolution and effectiveness of urban conservation measures.  Invited speakers will address such questions about urban conservation at distinct historical and cultural moments, in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  Together, these papers will: illuminate how and why urban conservation has been advanced in these particular moments; elaborate on the cultural, design, economic and political aspects of urban conservation strategies and regimes; and explore the successes and barriers to implementing conservation-centered urbanism.

Symposium funding is provided by the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, PennDesign, along with the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Maryland's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Please email for more information or to register for free.  

List of Speakers:

Guido Zucconi                             Università IUAV di Venezia

Daniele Pini                                University of Ferrara

Kevin Murphy                              CUNY Graduate Center

Brian Ladd                                  University at Albany

Alaa Elwi El-Habashi                   Monofia University, Egypt

Dan Abramson                           University of Washington

Michele Lamprakos                    University of Maryland

James Wescoat                         MIT

Garth Rockcastle                       University of Maryland



Michele Lamprakos                   University of Maryland

Randy Mason                           University of Pennsylvania