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The edge of the city is no longer identifiable. Although communities that reside along a city’s blurred edge are traditionally classified as ‘urban,’ they are areas of neglect that should be classified as the periphery. They share the same characteristics, challenges and opportunities for adaptation as we see in the suburbs.
Authors: Eiman Al Sakha, Ankita Chachra and Ryan Jacobson
A fortification that protected it from invasion clearly marked the edge of the ancient city. Prague, Vienna, Rome, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Cairo, and even San Juan still show traces of the edge that defined their boundaries; elements which articulate the character of each city. In highly apparent contrast, American cities have an ever-changing, indeterminate, undefined edge that is marked by nothing but a small highway sign that reads, “Welcome to (Insert City).” It lacks elements of unique character that have allowed many ancient cities to retain their charm. Instead, the edge of a American city has turned into a barrage of fast food restaurants, auto repair shops and endless parking lots. Not to say this hasn’t served its time, but there is a need to rethink the way a city meets the suburbs.
The rise in popularity of transit-oriented development (TOD) now puts even more pressure on developing the transition zone between the city and suburbs. In TOD’s, infrastructural investments extend past the city’s edge to replicate a version of the urban amenity within a new context. These newly created sub-cities allow the suburbs to offer a comparable lifestyle to the city that leverages on access, real estate and convenience. During the development process the city’s edge is bypassed by major investors and becomes the responsibility of capacities with far less resources. Existing communities on the edge loose their relevance amongst regional competitors and are left with a deteriorating urban fabric that is characterized by obsolescence.
The community on the edge of the city is transient. Over time the edge shifts based on trends in real estate, access to resources and infrastructure, and social perceptions of what is still considered to be “the city.” During an edge condition’s period of neglect the city leaves behind permanent artifacts of what once may have been a thriving community. Time can only tell when the ‘abandoned child’ will once again receive attention. And when that edge community finally upgrades and diversifies, a new series of neighborhoods will be caught in its wake of obsolescence.
When the community on the edge of the city is in its post-urban state it suffers most from vacancy. The supply is greater than the demand so neighborhoods decrease their density while building occupants emigrate to places that provide greater opportunity. The streets become empty and the community homogenizes. Even though the land use is zoned for a higher density, investors are reluctant on building to that density. The edge community, naturally and accidentally, acquires the characteristics and challenges that define the suburbs.
East New York is an edge community at the periphery of Brooklyn. It has been trapped between regions of high interest and investment; from Bushwick’s hipster warehouse lofts, the treelined Brownstone neighborhoods that radiate from Jay-Z’s new palace (The Barclays Center), to the far-reaching suburban renewal districts in Long Island, such as Levittown. Like any other edge or periphery, East New York has not only been identified by disinvestment, but is evidence of change in lifestyle that has prompted exploitation of physical landscape through sporadic density and excessive waste of space. Almost such, that it’s safe to say that it possesses characteristics similar to declining suburbs: auto-centrism, under utilized public transit, abandoned structures and a declining density. East New York is the forgotten interstice along Atlantic Avenue, which ties together Brooklyn’s urban core and the Long Island periphery.
The glue, Atlantic Avenue, has a streetscape that favors convenience rather than experience. It is only suitable for high-speed drivers and is considered to be one of the most dangerous street to cross in all of New York City’s boroughs. Atlantic Avenue’s auto-centric culture is evident in the business occupants that line the avenue: auto thrift shops, used car lots, auto repair shops and auto dump yards. These dying industries are joined by imports from the suburban periphery: strip malls, big box retail, fast food drive-throughs and a plethora of parking lots. It is difficult to understand how processed frozen meals, driving for a gallon of milk and typical signs of American over consumption (Thank you Target, Walmart and their likes) have entered the context of Brooklyn; a place that is characterized by its art boutiques, mom and pop butchers, and organic grocery stores.
The Atlantic Branch of the Long Island Railroad was once a highly travelled transportation option that included 22 stations in Brooklyn. However, the commuter rail line now only stops twice along that four-mile stretch before bypassing Brooklyn’s edge communities in route to the Long Island suburbs and beach destinations. This change is still ingrained in the urban fabric as evidence points to the late 19th century ivy-covered, abandoned station at its East New York stop. The local neglect for this regional line is also visible in the underutilized, obsolete and dead spaces that exist under the rail infrastructure.
East New York’s subway station, Broadway Junction, has the 10th most MTA subway lines stopping yet the station’s annual ridership ranks 157 out of 468 stations in New York City. The area does not offer employment, residential nor cultural activities that would allow Broadway Junction to become a destination. A heavy amount of high-speed roads, barbed-wire chain link fences and empty sidewalks frighten the pedestrian from walking near the station. The lack of diversity in uses and program, further add to its blighted suburban character.
As these characteristics of the suburbs have spilled into East New York we begin to question its relationship whether it’s relating back to the urban or the suburban? It meets at a clash point where under-utilized urban infrastructure exists in a suburban context. The existing landscape, although deteriorating, offers an immense potential for adaptive re-use and should be viewed as area for opportunity. The design solutions render a series of interventions that showcase temporality, reoccurrence and permanence.
The under-utilized landscape of Atlantic Avenue was documented in an effort to categorize suburban typologies.Taxonomies of under-utilized built fabric, under-performing parking areas, and vacant lots, allowed the us to understand the physical character of the avenue (Figure below).
The regional goal for Atlantic Avenue should be to integrate a series of multi-use, vibrant programs in order to create a more dynamic pedestrian experience that stitches the urban fabric of the adjacent communities. We suggest that the most efficient way in doing so is to feature vacant and under-utilized spaces as the ideal candidate for adjacent communities to directly influence their spatial needs. This will change the ‘back yard’ perception of Atlantic Avenue and allow for it to become a center for commerce and community. The strategy for these infill interventions suggests minimal permanent change to the existing structure of the spaces as they are geared toward more flexible solutions that generate instant revenue. The proposed programs realize the ever-changing city edge and accommodate by offering temporary, semi-permanent and recurring urban events. The hyper-concentration of re-organized spaces is supported through thematic programming, which strives to create urban identity by clustering businesses of similar interests. (Figure below).
Moving back to East New York, the second scale of intervention requires public investment to improve the fate of the neglected community on the city’s edge. A high-quality investment to the public realm allows Broadway Junction to become a destination. The re-use of MTA parking lots would introduce a unique public space enhanced by vistas and shadow patterns created by the elevated rail structure. The evolutionary beauty of the steel truss would create interest for one to engage in the space. Broadway Junction’s transformation would offer a safer environment for pedestrian activity and provide a platform to generate real estate growth.
East New York is one of the examples that was explored and realized for its present nature. These conditions are recurrent and true for a number of thriving American cities. The common thread that ties these examples of ‘sub-city’ is that they all lie within the city limits yet exhibit suburban behavior.
The speed of development, the time constraints of production and competitive economic growth have led us to a scenario where, concepts in architecture would either approach dissolution or emerge as recombinant.
Architecture and art have always needed patrons, those who encourage this practice.
Architecture has always been effected by economy of the place.
Architecture reflects the society.
Architecture is constantly adapting to change in culture and Culture is adapting to architecture.
Architecture has the ability to encompass within it aspects of varied natures…
It is function, it is form, it is philosophy, it is theme, it is technology, it is culture, it is everything we experience.
Architecture and its concepts have been constantly layered with every paradigm shift in thinking, although the generator of these shifts have varied from economic crises to the industrial boom, technological advances to multi-media and social networks etc.
In recent years the world has seen an unprecedented urban growth. There is a need for progress in the third world nations and developing countries in the East. The rapid urbanization in China has induced interest and curiosity in the nations of the West(i).It has brought curious speculation, debates and discussion to the world of planning and design. Result of this rapid urbanization, is the impetus for development, placing a primary focus on settlement support systems that are mainly infrastructure and housing. In developing economies, the growing demand has led to fast paced construction which is constantly outpacing the planning process. Gurgaon, and emerging mega city in India, (The Economist – September 2012),serves as a prime example where speed of construction outpaces planning . This rapid demand accelerates the production of design and outpaces the speed with which design is conceptualized.
While most offices struggle to keep up with an accelerated demand for designed buildings, compete for commissions and race against time, thereby essentially leaving no room for the development of new architectural thinking or building upon previous concepts. One begins to question if the relationship between concept and architecture still exists? Is it in a stage of dissolution, or are the current conditions setting up a platform for architecture concepts to remerge, to combine and thus be altogether recombinant?
At one end, architects are struggling with speed and the other, the economy associated with land costs and construction is inflating the bubble of speculative market, it has no real end user in place, it has no patron to impress. The mode of communication to the masses is a mere image. This image is then propelled to the status of a brand in order to attract potential end users. The concept has been simplified for the client; it is image based and basic. These image oriented designs have in fact encouraged analogical concepts like the Birds Nest in China by the Herzog de Meuron or Toyo Ito’s TOD’s Omotesando representing the concrete tree.
It has been proved over time and again that architectural thinking is often pushed in times of lull or economic recession. The ‘deconstructivsm’ exhibition stands witness to limits of modernism that were pushed due to the economic depression caused after the New York Stock exchange crash in 1987 and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989(ii).The newly developed concepts either become applicable to the needs of the society or the society adapts to the new models that are presented. In times of need and desperation, where buildings are mass-produced to meet the demand, there emerges dissolution of concept or architecture is reduced to mass culture. Going back to ‘Critical Theory,’ Theodor Adorno in his essay ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,’ observes, after immigrating to the United States, that high art is reduced to mass culture and commercial propaganda. The formation of a culture industry does not push the boundaries, understanding and development of the arts. Similarly, when we look at the Domino house model developed by Le Corbusier of the Modernist approach towards manufactured components finding their way into everyday life, a strong conceptual development unveiled itself. This model then later became most suited and immediately applicable to support the housing demand that arose after World War Two. Again, in this case the mass produced built product was devoid of conceptual thinking and architecture became mundane.
Daring to call the typical cookie cutter approach taken in new cities of the east like Gurgaon, India or Wuhan, China that erect towers in park as non-architecture, the idea of autonomous repetition can still in some aspect be affiliated with Moneo’s ideas of typology. The difference is that in this situation, it is being practiced by developer driven and profit -oriented mindsets, hence it is Non-Architecture or dissolution. It is what is being termed as ‘post-critical’, that is easy and relaxed, non consequential and without theory(iii).
The most essential way to communicate Architecture is through the Built. Yet in today’s day and age of mass media, architecture has been reduced to an image. The ‘concept’ becomes the selling point of the building rather than the driver of architectural thought. Branding, which is the new concept (or rather the dissolution of concept) generates imbecile forms that resemble pedestrian symbols, which the mass can identify with. Emphasis on the visual, even though it is an effective communication tool, propagates the visibility of the architect as a celebrity and a public figure. Bjarke Ingels Group‘s (also recognized as BIG architects) 8 House in Copenhagen or the Big Pin in Phoenix , both projects accede this dissolution.
This situation of dissolution of concepts is further aggravated by the recent virtualization and highly advanced digital modeling. Form does not follow function, it follows data and codes. Data and codes become concepts of buildings rather than mere information that supplement the modeling tools. This is no way suggesting that the tools are not important to improve the building performance and help push the manufacturing process. The reliance on these tools produces functional objects that don’t push architectural thinking. The digital tools make the approach towards architecture highly singular and everything else becomes an afterthought. This is often seen in ‘skin architecture’ or ‘blobitecture’ where every other aspect of architecture is forcibly moulded in the form generated. The designer and especially the ‘hand’ have become alienated from the product. Digital tools breed digital manufacturing, resulting in the loss of skill, both skill of an architect to draw and model and skill of the craftsman to sculpt and build.
Nevertheless, the use of parametric and form generating software have helped increase time efficiency and reduced production time. It might be considered apt for this situation where time is scarce and commission possibilities limitless. Their use also induced a shift of expected skill set in new interns and fresh graduates. Today, when hiring, architectural firms are more interested in the facility a person may have with digital tools rather than his/her capability as a designer. The time gain provided by efficiency, is spent on producing the glossy image or what can even be termed as ‘the money shot’. The emphasis on the image can be traced back to the likes of Hejduk, Eisenman, Hadid and Libeskind, who took a stand towards validity of architecture representations and drawing. Whether it were the experiments of the axon by Hejdyuk or the paintings by Zaha Hadid, each emphasized the mode and importance of representation. Yet, it was an abstraction and not a painted dream; it did not sell a pseudo- hyper reality. With ‘Branding’, the notion of concept is reduced to an image, towards propaganda and publicity.
On one hand one may critique the dissolution of concepts in architecture, but there exists a duality, which can be explained through Koolhaas’s briefly construed theory of ‘Bigness’(iv). He presents the complexity and the possibilities relating to the scale of architecture. He explains the double polemic of integration and concentration; and the contemporary doctrines that question the possibility of whole and real. The possibility of whole is intriguing because the building is no more a single entity; instead it starts to act as a city. It amalgamates, it layers and it combines. Expanding further on the notion of amalgamation, the teams that work toward its completion diversifies, new expertise are required, highlighting the emphasis on integration. This integration however is not dissolution, but a shift that is generated due to the need of ‘bigness’. Similarly architecture itself has expanded in the way it needs to be perceived. Concepts and studies of past reflect itself in a saturation due to lack of the new architectural concept.
Stepping back in the past, we refer to Venturi and Scott Brown’s exemplary work ‘Learning from Las Vegas’(v) that instigated a paradigm shift in our understanding of the role of architecture, it exceeded the premise, exposing architecture as something beyond form and building. It was about identity, experience and communication.Exposed notion of Venturi and Brown, conjured with the theory of ‘bigness’, presents architecture as the ultimate integration of multiple concepts at an issue-based and contextual platform.
Architecture has always been a deep ocean of knowledge. One is expected to have common knowledge of every field that converges into architecture. Each student entering the field is expected to know the working of services, structural systems, material application, human psychology, climatology, geography, social aspects, art and architecture history, visual representation and much more. It has always been ‘big’ not just pertaining to physicality and scale but to application. Initial experiments of Coop HimmelB(l)au or the theory of the Situationists, both reflect the extension of architecture and thinking beyond the scale of built. Architecture is capable to encompass within it aspects of varied natures.
In the essay ‘Toward an Urbanistic Architecture’, Mass(vi) talks about architecture reaching its saturation and urbanism is losing its allure. He critiques the current situation and instigates to take a critical stand on the present situation. One may agree when he explains the present criticality for a movement of change under the pretext of Growth, Migration, Mobility, Specialization and Climate. The situation at hand, which can be accused towards dissolution of concept in architecture, brings forward an opportunity for another paradigm shift, the opportunity of Recombination, and the opportunity of a hybrid concept. The time constrains, economic triggers and a lack of patronage may not allow for new design concepts to be developed, yet one can read subtle indications of different concepts and ideologies from the past resurfacing.
Considering these dualities, there are only two point to where what architecture will turn, one where it becomes a business, a commercial enterprise where money, profits and image rule, that which is feared with the acceptance of the ‘post critical’ or the other where the theories and thought that this field had undergone are merged and recombined. Architecture has collected a vast knowledge of extreme conceptual practices. The speed prevents time to invest in new thinking or ideas but amalgamation and layering of concepts in architecture could help define a field which itself is layered and whole.
Who can imagine what recombination of concepts of typologies, ideological envelopes, autonomous, contextual, symbolic, minimal and even embracing the return of decoration beyond the post critical would be. But this lack of time and speed can only further pressurize the need to develop the new paradigm and prevent it from becoming mundane and a mere image, lacking substance. The fast pace does not encourage development of new conceptual premise and theory, but should we really accept that ‘the latest theory is that theory doesn’t matter’(vii)? Architecture is neither neutral nor casual; there is nothing in architecture that should not matter. It is responsible and political. It adapts to culture and culture to it. The new theory should be theory of Recombinsm, amalgamation and recreation. It should be ‘big’, something that encompasses within it all the past knowledge, critiques and theories.
Author : Ankita Chachra
i LSE, Urban Age Conference Publication http://lsecities.net/publications/conference-newspapers/shanghai-the-fastest-city/
ii Jodidio, Philip. New forms: Architecture in the 1990s. K ln [Germany: Taschen, 1997]
iii Martin, Reinhold. “Critical of what? Toward an Utopian Realism.” Ed. Willam S. Saunders. The New Architectural Pragmatism 2007: 104-09.
iv Koolhaas, Rem, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. “Bigness.” S, M, L, XL: Small, medium, large, extra-large. New York: Monacelli P, 1998. 495-517.
v Venturi, Robert, Brown Denise Scott, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas: The forgotten symbolism of architectural form. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1977.
vi Maas, Winy. “Towards Urbanistic Architecture.” The state of architecture at the beginning of the 21st century. Ed. Bernard Tschumi and Irene Cheng. New York: Monacelli P, 2003.
vii Eakin, Emily. “The Latest Theory Is That Theory Doesn’t Matter.” The New York Times [New York] 19 Apr. 2003
An emerging trend in most developing nations is this pseudo idea of security through enclaves and gated settlements. This case study from India‘s National Capital region Gurgaon , sheds light on the effects which gated communities have on the society and lifestyle. For Gurgaon, the foundation for gated development was laid in the 1990’s when Haryana government changed local legislation, to allow private companies to develop land. The private real estate boom continues today, as each developer nourishes his exclusive high-end housing development with community amenities like shared pool, club house, sporting facilities, convenience commercial etc. The developer then publicizes the greens inside this enclave and of course, the idea of security and privacy are further embellished. This development is limited to the ownership boundaries, what happens outside remains the local authorities concern, in Gurgaon’s case it would be HUDA‘s.
In most cases, the public realm fails to develop,while each authority plays the blame game of ownership outside the property of the developer. Gated communities have not only led to crime ridden and unsafe zones by preventing the idea of ‘eyes on street’ (contested by Jane Jacobs) but also led to a car oriented urban environment that is unsuitable for pedestrian movement. The City of Gurgaon primary consists of enclaves, malls and car congested high-speed roads. I wonder if one can call this a city when it lacks basic streets and urban life. While the privileged have their enclaves to entertain them , the not so privileged deal with dangerous roadways and hard paved traffic signals as their only public space. At such instance, should one defend the idea of POPS ( Privately owned Public spaces)? For a situation like Gurgaon, is it the only way to ensure the availability of a public realm?
Obviously, it is naïve to expect a sudden change in the mentality of residents or developers, or to radicalize the idea that all gates and fences be demolished. I thus present to you an idea/ experiment (explored with a peer, Reihaneh Ramezany ) to retrofit the current situation with not only design guidelines but with law and policy changes that hold developers more accountable and lead to a more inclusive fabric.
This case study zooms into a neighborhood scale, situated on one of the most traveled roads. M.G. Road, not only connects Delhi and Gurgaon but also has an overhead metro line running parallel to it. On closer analysis of the selected area, we concluded that streets are the only public realm left after excluding all developments. The question is, could a zoning law be applied to streets, similar to land use and zoning code. Could the developer be encouraged to develop the street zone with added F.A.R incentives?
Team: Ankita Chachra, Eiman Alsakha and Ryan Jacobson
For more detail on the project visit : http://www.msaudcolumbia.org/fall/spatial-mixology/
Project mentioned in Brownstoner !
There is something peculiar about the way cities are arranged in the present day scenario. The metaphysical aspect of how cities evolve along with decisive interventions and natural growth makes it an amalgam of diverse habitats and existences. While researching the largest borough of New York City, we discovered the trend of divestment and underutilized spaces along one of the avenues that led from downtown Brooklyn towards the city limits, East New York.
Why is there an emphasis on the City Center or the Core, while the adjacency are allowed to evolve as a by-product.
Here’s a site analysis of a corridor in Brooklyn that leads from the its perceived core to perceived periphery and witnesses the decline in quality of life.
Credits: Ankita Chachra, Eiman Alsakha and Ryan Jacobson
With streets are the most interactive and dynamic public realm. Thinking of sidewalks as a string of linear plazas, a little Urban Insertion can make these streets, more interactive with its users and their temporal needs. The para metrical idea is further deploy-able in any openscape.
Emerging Sidewalk is a dynamic parametric system strip, which is sandwiched between the primary sidewalk base and its top. It can be a shade…it could be a bus stop or a food stall…it could be a table or a bench..or it could be just a mere planter. It modestly plays with different anthropological heights to suit the required intent of its users and space.