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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
June 21, 2004
Volume 39, Number 16

Graduate programs in town design, historic preservation approved

By Carolyn Gonzales

New Mexico’s enchantment lies in small places with colorful histories. Carlsbad, Carrizozo and Capitan. Hobbs, Hurley and Hatch. Tucumcari, Tatum and Tularosa. Each is endowed with its own people, sense of place and special piece of the state’s puzzle.

To promote, preserve and place value on the uniqueness of the state’s treasured towns, tourist stops and historic locales, the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning now offers graduate certificate programs in Town Design and Historic Preservation and Regionalism.

Both programs were unanimously approved by the State Board of Finance with endorsement from Governor Bill Richardson and Lt. Governor Diane Denish. The school’s dean, Roger Schluntz, said, “I am delighted, of course, by the unanimous vote. This underscores my own sense that these are very important initiatives and undertakings for the School of Architecture and Planning.”

Chris Wilson, associate professor and J.B. Jackson Professor of Cultural Studies, is directing the program in Historic Preservation and Regionalism. “As areas within the state hurt economically, they fight for investment and development strategies to remain vibrant. We can offer ideas to designate areas as historic, which makes it possible to go after funding to preserve those sites.”

Courses include an introduction to preservation and regionalism, nine hours from an approved list of electives, a course in historic community research and a real-world final project – a graduate community studio, a Design Planning Assistance Center project or master’s thesis or project.

Wilson sees the popularity of heritage tourism making the case for the program. “We will help them cultivate, restore, preserve and revitalize that heritage,” he said.

The program will assist students wishing to contribute to the conservation of architectural and cultural heritage and the vitality of valued regional traditions, he said.

The program is interdisciplinary, particularly drawing on students from museum studies or history. Wilson expects city planners to be drawn in. “We anticipate those who need specialized knowledge, those charged to oversee cultural resources and historic preservation within city, county or tribal governments,” he said.

Students will work directly with communities, learning how to involve them. “They will bring research abilities to service in a community,” Wilson said.

Students will learn to love and respect where they are without having to turn to nostalgia and escapism to do so, while also understanding how their place fits into a larger global reality, Wilson said.

Mark Childs, director of the Design Planning Assistance Center, is directing the Town Design program. Childs and DPAC have a proven track record in New Mexico communities including Artesia, Clovis, Aztec and Socorro.

“Of all states, New Mexico has the highest percentage of its population in small towns,” Childs said. Pueblos, military bases, freeway interchanges, villages and the railroad motivate town development in the state, he said.

The certificate program in town design gives students the foundation to think critically about approaches to designing emerging districts, towns and cities. Points of concern include a town’s infrastructure, streets, platting patterns, building types, utility structures and how they influence architecture and the character of place.

Participants will gain an understanding about the relationship between design professionals and those who use buildings – owners, users and citizens, Childs said.

A long-term proponent of engaging community in town design, Childs views this course of study as a way of providing greater expertise within communities.

“New Mexico provides a variety of settlement and district types to study including Native American Pueblos, strip malls, Spanish Colonial settlements, gated communities, acequia villages, ghost mining towns, colonias and communes. All provide rich opportunities for research. New Mexico also offers distinctive interactions between the natural and built environments,” he said.

Childs said students will learn how to improve quality of life through physical design. “A course offered this fall addresses town design and public health. We need to make the connection between physical exercise and the urban form,” he said.

For more information about Historic Preservation and Regionalism, contact Chris Wilson at 277-3303; for Town Design, contact Mark Childs at 277-5059.