Contemporary Design in Historic Settings

HSPV 640-301

Contemporary Design in Historic Settings

Historic settings can gain value and meaning through thoughtful contemporary design. Contemporary designs are enriched by rigorous dialogue with their historic environs. These premises are fundamental to contemporary heritage planning, yet remain highly controversial in the realms of conservation and design. How closely can new design relate to historic forms without being mistaken for—and diminishing—authentic heritage? How abstract can design references that claim continuity become before they actually disrupt the integrity of their context? This seminar immersed students in this challenging debate.

Design guidelines have become a fundamental part of heritage conservation and, throughout the world, urban, suburban and rural environments are increasingly subject to design controls of some kind. In all contexts, public participation in the design process is growing, sometimes at the expense of originality and innovation. This seminar introduced conversation to appropriate, authentic and creative solutions to heritage settings and existing structures, as well as guidelines and interpretation that foster them.  

Students participated in case studies and class discussions highlighting how clients, communities, designers and design theory have shaped regulation and design with heritage through the past century. In order to engage in this process, students addressed an infill sketch problem in which they designed elevations for a vacant lot in West Philadelphia that responded to the surrounding context of age, material, scale, and geometry.

Elevation of a street
Map of a community
Rendering of the facade of a building