Urban Ground

Posted on Friday, December 1st, 2006 at 12:00 pm

Constructing Urban Ground

Although cities are typically understood as the aggregate of their buildings, this misses the importance of the urban ground as the primary mechanism for connecting people, institutions, and landscapes. The urban ground provides the structure that enables relationships to be formed and therefore, values to be made evident. Linguistically, the ideas contained in phrases such as “finding common ground,” or “being grounded” reveal the significance of this mostly background structure.

The idea of urban ground, however, seems out of place when considering building more than a few stories of height. There is, of course, the “ground floor” but soon this is left behind for a life disengaged from both the natural and cultural vitality that is the basis for a rich urban existence. The terms used in buildings of height are deceptive. The “curtain wall” promises a degree of interaction with things beyond but turns out to be a thermal and social dead end. The rich and unexpected interactions that make street life so welcome will typically be replaced by a monoculture where everyone and everything is so similar that the frictions that make urban life so profound could never happen. As one gets further from the ground, one does find a certain intellectual pleasure in the abstract views that put the city below in order, but being so detached it makes any resultant action a distant possibility.

It is possible to think differently about building away from the ground and that is what this studio will explore. We will work through section more than plan so as to avoid the common stacking of floor plates that divides a structure rather than brings things together.

Avoiding reliance on elevator cores, which mostly disengage the interior activities from the ground, we will explore ways to bend, fold, and wrap circulation around activity as a way of engaging a new form of ground.

Activity, itself, will be looked at as complex in both spatial and temporal terms and therefore capable of inhabiting multiple locations.

Instead of the knife thin edge of glass that distinguishes inside from outside, yet provides no way for these crucial polarities to engage each other, we will look to layered boundaries that allow a structure’s occupants to fully engage the natural energies of sun, wind, and rain.

The program will be more akin to the city itself. In other words, it will have the variety of uses, scales, and distinctions that make urban life so compelling.

Finally the site will not necessarily distinguish the project from its urban context but instead allow it to be woven into the urban fabric so its boundaries are blurred and ambiguous.

In order to develop a working understanding of alternative spatial strategies, the semester will begin with some rapid abstract exercise exploring different modes of putting things together.

Because of the nature of the expected spatial explorations, we will rely on 3D digital modeling and simple cardboard or paper models.

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