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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Proceedings of Spaces of History / Histories of Space: Emerging Approaches to the Study of the Built Environment is a repository of the papers submitted for presentation at the conference “Spaces of History / Histories of Space: Emerging Approaches to the Study of the Built environment.” The conference was held on April 30 and May 1, 2010 at the College of Environmental Design at University of California, Berkeley.

Aiming to survey and access new approaches and analytical tools for studying the history of built spaces, the conference invited papers that explore a range of questions pertaining to theory, methodology and pedagogy: How has the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences transformed the ways in which history of the built environment is theorized and researched? How should we study a historical moment when certain types of evidence predominate? What are the potentials and biases in the use of particular research techniques and narrative forms? To what extent are these choices shaped by disciplinary knowledge? How might such interrogations help us conceive new pedagogies for design and planning?

The conference has attracted a diverse group of participants from ten countries, and has been recognized as a major catalyst for fostering interdisciplinary research in the field. For information of the conference program and other details, please visit the conference website:

The Proceedings of Spaces of History / Histories of Space: Emerging Approaches to the Study of the Built Environment

There are 13 publications in this collection, published between 2010 and 2010.
Recent Work (13)

The Conversion of the Palace of the Republic, 2004-2005, A Technology of Changing Atmospheres

Gentrification theory deals with the issue of converted buildings. However, it solely offers a diminished reading of the process of so-called aestheticization and of other sensual refurbishments that take place when undesired, decaying buildings are made desirable. Often, this rather ‘mundane’ process remains a black-box. In this paper, a reconfigured attention to atmospheric settings such as converted buildings are, is offered. From an Actor-Network-Theory point of view, it will be argued that when speaking of conversion as a process that transforms buildings one mainly speaks about material-semiotic changes made in the buildings’ atmospheres. Atmospheres in this view are actors of sociality that create their own actor-networks. Translated to converted buildings, thus, Atmospheric-Actor-Networks (AAN) configure how the sensual refurbishment of those buildings takes shape. With this perspective in mind, emphasis is placed on a case study of the conversion of the Palace of the Republic in Berlin in 2004-05 in which the benefits of this atmospheric-actor-network reading of aestheticization is exposed.

The Virtual (Re)Construction of History: Some Epistemological Questions

In recent years, some historians started to experiment with computer-generated virtual environments as a new medium for representing spatial history beyond the written language; unfolding new potentials for understanding and representing history. The new medium introduces often neglected sensory modalities and the exposition of some aspects of history that may otherwise go unnoticed. It affords the use of phenomenology and semiotics as theoretical lenses for interpreting the past in ways not possible in traditional media. It also often employs symbolic realism (the use of perspectival constructions that emulate everyday experience) to enable new forms of individual and social engagements with the past. In doing so, it raises new epistemological questions not typically encountered by historians using traditional media. This paper aims to clarify some of the assumptions and premises at work in reconstructing the past using computer-generated virtual environments. It examines some epistemological concerns with the use of phenomenology and semiotics as theoretical lenses. It also explores the potentials and limitations of symbolic realism and its offshoots: the suspension of disbelief and the suspension of imagination.

History of Spaces as a Pivotal Tool for Planning Practice: Analyzing Fractures and Continuities with Schoolchildren for the Master Plan of Dicomano, Italy

On the occasion of the drawing up of the new Master Plan for the Municipality of Dicomano (Tus-cany), the authorities requested not just a project from the planners, but the initiation of a process that ‘could create and develop a dialogue between inhabitants and institutions’. The dialogical planning included a one-year Laboratory with schools (for children between 8 and 11 years), which involved young generations in the discussion of urban values, sense of belonging and transforma-tion of spaces. The idea was that of valorizing children’s knowledge on city space, and their role of “multipliers” for involving their families in the planning process. A specialized team of architects and planners followed the experience, seeking to avoid the “marginalization” of results and guaran-teeing their confluence into the “adults’ plan”. Being Dicomano a city destroyed twice during the XX century (by an earthquake in 1919 and the IIWW in 1944), the first idea was to rebuild the his-tory of spaces, creating a dialogue between new and old generations. The Children Plan proposal played as a catalyst for other citizens, which then were involved in the participatory process which shaped the Structural Plan. The paper analyses some features, limits and results of this experience.

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