A case study of the relationship between community and constructed environment through collecting life histories in Savannah, Georgia reveals how both are best understood as ongoing processes. Because the city is undergoing rapid economic, demographic and even aesthetic shifts, designers must grasp the nature of these processes: How are communities formed and sustained, and in what ways does the constructed environment impact community activity (and vice versa)? Understanding this, the role of design—architectural or otherwise—is to encourage relationships that support the health and balanced dynamic between community and constructed environments. To investigate this claim, we used ethnographic methods in a multidisciplinary course co-offered in Architecture and Anthropology programs. By collecting oral histories of “constructive protagonists,” people who help make community happen, students understood the incongruence between subjective, vernacular maps of place and those reflecting geographical, Euclidean or planning space. Students not only learned about a subjective landscape to which they are not usually privy, but they also mined oral histories for information to be used in design. By participating face-to-face in deeply personal recitations of life—marked by memories, feelings, reflections and hopes—students and participants both formed new bonds, forging the links of an expanded social network. We argue that using such methods enhances the efforts of those seeking to make an imprint in any constructed environment through design practices because it sensitizes practitioners to the invisible currents that influence how people relate to and move in, through, and around these environments in very particular ways.
|Keywords:||Ethnography, Invisible Landscape, Multi-disciplinary Pedagogy, Social Architecture of Place, Subjective Mapping|
Professor of Anthropology, Department of Liberal Arts, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA, USA
Professor of Architecture, Department of Architecture, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA, USA