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About the Course

Video courtesy of Don Burton

Recognized through such terms as the “post-industrial,” Rust Belt,” “shrinking,or Gateway,” the urban centers of the Midwest and Northeast were powerhouses in the US economy from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. However, beginning in the early 1980s these cities struggled to adapt to a host of challenges that included outsourcing decreases in local tax revenue and high unemployment. These developments, which were intimately tied to the removal of industrialized modes of production and the shift in foreign trade policy, eventually led to depopulation and abandonment (a phenomenon that is best captured in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me, regarding the city of Flint, Michigan).

Many of these industrial cities are known for their unique architectural legacy from the economic boom eras of the past two centuries. But the last three decades have seen such treasures sit unused, waiting for economic revival. Abandoned homes, vacant lots, empty streets, unused factories, and dilapidated mills have characterized these cities for some time now. In recent years, this image has gradually started to shift. While many of these cities are still struggling, some have been successful in microscale economic revival, especially as it relates to preserving, repurposing, and reinventing vacant spaces. Of course it is debatable whether or not these microscale economic forces will lead to robust and long-term success. But these developments are certainly helpful in the near term and they may even be the nuclei of larger economic improvements in a steady state. In Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City (2010), John Gallagher describes how organizations such as Earthworks Urban Farm and other small-scale community-run projects have contributed to the revival of Detroit. Likewise, the post-industrial urban centers of Massachusetts, which are also known as Gateway Cities, offer inexpensive commercial real estate and an existing infrastructure with a unique potential for growth. Due to its high concentration of artists and galleries, the Gateway City of New Bedford in the south coast region of Massachusetts, was ranked the seventh “Most Artistic City in the Nation.

In this class we will focus on the recent past, present, and future of landmarks and architectural heritage of these cities, illuminating the importance of the history and continued survival of the built environments of these regions. Architecture will serve as a springboard for discussing larger issues regarding the rise and fall and the future of these cities.  Although the literature we cover extends beyond Massachusetts, the final projects will be focused on the city of New Bedford. Taking New Bedford as an example, this seminar explores the links among historical consciousness of the American post-Industrial city and a future with a sustained life. It will explore such topics as the relation of place to community identity; the role of historical narrative in public discourse; aesthetic practices of sustainability; sustainable maintenance and growth, the role of creative agents (artists and designers) in reviving the post-industrial city.

This course is a collaborative effort between the University of Massachusetts’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and (non-profit) organizations in downtown New Bedford (The Coalition for Buzzards Bay; the New Bedford Historical Society; the New Bedford Whaling Museum; AHA! or Art, History, and Architecture events; Community Economic Development Center). There will be field trips to the Waterfront developments; the artists’ studios in the former textile factories of the north end; Wamsutta Mill (former textile factory, converted into residential units); the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, as well as attending presentations by guest lecturers and community experts. In sum, this seminar will ask students to participate in advanced reading and discussion, pursue locally- based archival research, engage in the documentation of the built environment of the city, and develop conceptual design proposals for the renewal of historically-rich, but neglected landscapes of “post-industrial” cities.


  • Students will acquire a basic knowledge of urban and architectural history.
  • Learn to synthesize theory and practice.  
  • Use appropriate disciplinary terminology (includes both stylistic and theoretical terms related to architecture and public art)
  • Demonstrate knowledge of how to do research in a team and how to develop group projects
  • Interpret and create informed responses
  • Articulate the cultural context, history and formal and conceptual aspects of the role of architecture and public art in revitalization of the American post-industrial city.
  • Evaluate arguments made in support of different perspectives on post-industrial cities of the US.
  • Learn about the history of American architecture as well as industrialization and deindustrialization of American cities from the perspectives of urban planning, architecture, and public art.
  • Gain valuable information about architecture and urban planning in post-industrial cities around the world in comparative perspectives. Themes range from preservation of already existing buildings and strategies for sustainable growth, to the role of ad-hoc agents in revitalizing the “dead zones” of these urban contexts.
  • Explain the ways in which creative work can expresses the values of historic, but economically declining American cities.
  • Gain valuable information about preservation of already existing buildings and strategies for sustainable growth, to the role of ad-hoc agents in revitalizing the “dead zones” of these urban contexts.
  • Locate, analyze, summarize, paraphrase and synthesize material from a variety of local US sources, including archival materials, texts, images, maps and interviews with local experts; Develop advanced research skills by investigating documents and material cultural artifacts at the UMD Archive, New Bedford Whaling Museum Library and Archive, etc.; demonstrate acquired knowledge through class presentations, on-line posts, and (art) projects.
  • In explaining, the characteristic of a site and its content discuss: a) form, b) content, c) context, and d)   methods of production.
  • Evaluate arguments made in support of different perspectives on sustainable design in the US.

Policies and requirements:

  • Attendance at all classes and group meetings
  • Completion of all phases of each assignment
  • Participation in class discussions and online posts

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