Architects in the Archives: The Research, Design, and Curation of a Bicentennial Exhibition
In April of this year, the Taubman College Gallery on North Campus debuted a student exhibition entitled “Persistent Pasts: The Bicentennial Campus as Archive.” Combining historical research and analysis from the students in Sarah Rovang’s “The Curated Campus” graduate seminar and the output of a design studio taught by Steven Mankouche, “Persistent Pasts” reflected on the University of Michigan’s campus as a repository of memory. As UM celebrates its Bicentennial year, this exhibition asked how past traditions, tensions, and technologies left material or cultural traces on campus space today. By juxtaposing rarely examined aspects of the historical university and radical designs for an unrealized present, “Persistent Pasts” prompted visitors to question entrenched conceptions of what UM should and could be, architecturally and institutionally. This talk revisits the experience of designing and teaching this course as an opportunity to think critically about two principle questions with ramifications for both humanists and architects. First, what particular skills, tools, and techniques do architects bring to both the processes and objects of archival research? And second, what are the implications of teaching a design-build course with a public-facing, museological final project? We will also discuss ongoing efforts to create an afterlife for the exhibition as an immersive digital humanities project, interrogating the possibilities and challenges of translating a predominantly physical exhibition into an exclusively digital setting.
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