Place Matters: Tradition in the American West

Next week, I am honored to be presenting a lecture at the Seminario Internacional Arquitectura y Humanismo being held at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in conjunction with the Premio Rafael Manzano Martos. I will be presenting the rationale and work of our new center, CARTA, and my thoughts on the role of place, particularly in the American West. An excerpt from the catalog accompanying the symposium follows the break below, the full text of which may be downloaded by clicking HERE.

Denver's Larimer Square.

Denver’s Larimer Square.

As America rebounds from the Great Recession of 2008, cities such as Denver, Seattle, and Portland are experiencing rapid growth, in both city-center infill projects and expanding suburban development. This building boom, driven as much by demand for new housing and commercial space as it is by capitalism, is unfortunately characterized by buildings that all too often lack durability, sustainability, and beauty. Many of the buildings being built, especially in historic neighborhoods, have nothing in common with their contexts.

Perceiving this loss of identity and changing character, citizens, neighborhood groups, and preservation associations are responding with anti-density, anti-development, even anti-ugly building campaigns. When heritage and identity are threatened, people respond by protecting the character and place that defines them. Paraphrasing American writer, environmentalist, and farmer Wendell Berry, a people cannot know who they are unless they know where they are.

For the past 30 years traditional urban design methods and patterns have been studied, applied, and advanced by New Urbanists, resulting in many new traditional towns, retrofitted suburbs, Smart Growth, and Form-Based Codes. This has been an essential step toward recovering our built environment from the impact of the misguided principles of modernism. However, even with decades of leadership by the University of Notre Dame, The Prince’s Foundation, the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, and INTBAU, traditional architecture has not achieved the same level of influence. Instead, architectural education, students, and practitioners remain largely focused on a new formalism highly disconnected from public taste.

With durable construction, adaptable building typologies, and culturally resonant forms, traditional architecture has much to teach today’s students and practitioners. It offers humane, context-sensitive alternatives for new development. By connecting to traditional methods and patterns of place-making, design, and building, we can strengthen the identity and character of a community instead of erasing it.

The Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture (CARTA) at the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning was established in 2015 to investigate problems such as these and propose new solutions. Already, in the immediate context of Denver, CARTA is having an impact on the role of tradition in the future of the American West.

Christine Franck is the founding Director of the Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture (CARTA) at the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture & Planning, as well as a designer, educator, and author. Her design work ranges from award-winning residential design to preservation, landscape and decorative projects. In addition, she teaches, lectures, and writes on the topics of architectural design, contemporary and historic Classical architecture and American domestic architecture. She has developed, directed and administered programs for institutions such as the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) and The Prince of Wales’s Foundation and held teaching appointments from the schools of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before establishing her own practice to focus on design and education, she interned with the offices of Allan Greenberg, Architect and served as the first Executive Director of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. All aspects of her work are ethically focused on improving the built environment and quality of life of all individuals. Christine currently serves or has served as trustee and advisor of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) National and Rocky Mountain Chapter; the International Network of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU); the National Civic Art Society (NCAS) and the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Virginia and a Master of Architecture from the University of Notre Dame. Her design sensitivity was developed at an early age in her hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia and the cities she has been fortunate to call home: New York, Washington, Bath, Carthage, and Rome. She has been honored for both her educational and design work. In 2002 HRH The Prince of Wales awarded her his first and only Public Service Award of The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment for her “outstanding contribution to the study of architecture and design.” Her design work has garnered prizes as diverse as a Palladio Award for new residential construction, an ICAA Texas Chapter John Staub award for renovation and a Historic Fort Worth award for preservation. It has been published in magazines and books such as Architecture, Residential Architect, New Old House, Period Homes and The Classicist and exhibited at shows in America and Europe such as Buildings Made by Hand, The Art of Building Cities, A Decade of Art and Architecture, New Palladians, and at the RIBA’s Palladian Design: The Good,

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