Architectural historian and migration scholar Sarah Lopez recently joined the Penn’s Weitzman School of Design as an associate professor of city and regional planning; she teaches in the Department of Historic Preservation as well as the Department of City & Regional Planning, including coursework for the Ph.D. with a concentration in the history of the built environment. Her work explores the intersection of migration, architectural history, ethnography, and urban and spatial justice. She is the author of the book “The Remittance Landscape: The Spaces of Migration in Rural Mexico and Urban USA” and is at work on two new books.
Lopez, who joined the faculty through the History of the Built Environment Initiative, says that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is a throughline across her research. “I think about my work as resting at the intersection of U.S.-Mexico migration and the material world. U.S.-Mexico migration is about the country and places in Mexico and the country and places in the United States that are implicated in the movement of people and things across the border,” she says. “In relation to the material world, I am talking as an architectural historian who looks at the built environment and who thinks about all the scales of our environment. The material world that surrounds us happens at the scale of buildings, landscapes, objects.”
This semester, Lopez is teaching the course Material Histories and Ethnographic Methods; she thinks it’s important for students in design, planning, and preservation to learn how to do ethnography and anthropology in practice.
“This class is very much about people’s stories and material worlds and how we combine those two sources of evidence to tell powerful stories about places,” Lopez says.
“Being excited about methods for students is about them realizing they can tell their own story, they can see something and identify something as important, and they can craft a way to communicate that importance. Design students engage so many different complex urban issues from transportation to articulating a façade to imagining a landscape. All of those arenas are about understanding the relationship between people and the built environment. In order to fully understand that relationship, you have to have a sense of the context of the built environment.”
This story is by Rebecca Greenwald. Read more at Weitzman News.