Linda Just

MDes

Plot Excavations: On the Potential of Narratives to Reinvent Place in the Postindustrial Aftermath

Advised by Toshiko Mori

The relationship between place and narrative has strong roots embedded in sociological, phenomenological, and aesthetic contexts. That correlation has been widely reflected upon in theoretical terms, and manifested most evidently in cultural media: in art, film, and literature where well-crafted settings contribute to mood, theme, or plot. The assignment of critical value to place—to architecture—seems obvious: designed spaces are where stories unfold. But narrative can serve important roles in architecture directly—containing and generating meaning for both the individual and the collective. Stories often support identities, while affording room for numerous interpretations and change with time. Spaces that offer such elasticity and polyphonic presence allow communities to grow, adapt, and represent themselves: they become active places.

This research defines the terms by which narrative can shape places and their perception through the particular lens of the postindustrial, a built condition that evokes uncertainty and troubled reflection within critical theory of the Anthropocene. It examines three case studies tied to themes of aesthetic experience, environmental reform, and social engagement—in France, Germany, and Japan—that have developed or enacted narratives beyond the failure and decline typically associated with such places. Building from that analysis, the work then proposes a speculative framework for a fourth location: Harrisburg, Illinois, which, like many North American postindustrial communities outside the periphery of large metropolitan areas, has continued to struggle toward impactful forms of social, spatial, or cultural renaissance.

Linda Just, MDes. Spread of a cartographic collage of overlapped, historical landscape conditions in the Southern Illinois Coal Belt community, with adjacent research text.
Linda Just, MDes. Spread of a map of Harrisburg, Illinois overlaying an aerial photograph, a highway map, and a mining excavation diagram, with adjacent research text.
Linda Just, MDes. Spread of a narrative text excerpt, with illustration depicting the repurpose of a derelict coal tipple.
Linda Just, MDes. Spread of a narrative text excerpt, with illustration depicting a garden in a vacant brick house.
Linda Just, MDes. Spread of a narrative text excerpt, with illustration depicting a storefront with faintly overlaid imagery of historic forestry practices and new wood fabrication.
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