Designing Relationships: Investigating Community and Constructing Environments

By Susan Falls and Julie Rogers Varland.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.31-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 13.033MB).

Dr. Susan Falls

Professor of Anthropology, Department of Liberal Arts, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA, USA

Susan Falls holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). She teaches at The Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Her academic interests include urban ethnography, material culture, semiotics, political economy, and art/design. Her teaching and research as a cultural anthropologist in an Arts and Design school focuses on collaboration across the disciplines.

Prof. Julie Rogers Varland

Professor of Architecture, Department of Architecture, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA, USA

Julie Rogers Varland holds a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University. She teaches architectural design, urban design and design fundamentals at graduate and undergraduate levels at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Primary interests, research, and activities focus on collaborative projects and multi-disciplinary investigations that consider how proactive design can impact how we live in and construct our world. Her work ranges from architecture to installations to community facilitation to pedagogy design.