"Every building, every infrastructure and every regulatory framework is traversed by power relations, ideological visions and institutionalized exclusions that benefit some populations at the expense of others."

Martín Arboleda, Preface in Critique of Urbanization: Selected Essays, ed. Neil Brenner (Basel, Switzerland: Birkhäuser Verlag, 2017), 12.

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Urgent Amalgamations: Optimistic Trajectories for the Contemporary City

Keywords

Optimistic, Urbanization, Equity, Density, CIAM, Tower in the Park, Mixed-Use/Income, Chicago

Abstract

The research and design explorations that follow encompass topics of the origin, influence, implementation, effect, and revision of modernism’s “tower in the park,” as originally defined in the early twentieth century by the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM). Although examining precedents across North America and Europe, the South Side of Chicago serves as a laboratory for design testing: a Midwestern, metropolitan context in the United States that presents a variety of opportunities due to its convoluted politics, racial and social tensions, crime, and isolating planning history. As a result of the city’s ambitious “Plan for Transformation,” beginning in 2000, Chicago’s Near Side neighborhoods find themselves in a peripheral zone around the vibrant city, cloaked in vacant blocks. Today, vast areas of stagnant landscapes continue to rest quietly in a prolonged wake of mass-demolition: a product of the complete erasure of neglected public housing towers. In an effort to reintroduce former tower residents, as well as invite newly-diverse audiences, an alternative method gives shape to new building typologies that integrate themselves within the city’s existing grid and form. A contemporary revision of CIAM’s tower in the park becomes an experimental model that establishes new trajectories for growing urban populations. These optimistic environments counter the negative effects that have stigmatized numerous communities. A design process that orchestrates a collision of differences, rather than conflicting similarities, encourages unprecedented amalgamations: a new mix of people, program, place, transit, form, material, and landscape. This work positions itself at the intersection of multiple disciplines and media not often merged, including urban design, psychology, sociology, time-lapse photography, film, dystopian science fiction, and architecture. Intriguing new perspectives, informed by diverse design methodologies, advocate for an interconnected architecture that sets the stage for serendipity.

Thesis Statement

Positioned within the grid of historically-neglected and segregated neighborhoods, optimistic architecture and urbanism has a responsibility to encourage the human perception of opportunity, dignity, diversity, and inclusion: a reintegration of communities and densification of equitable infrastructure.

Argument

As respondents to the pitfalls of high-rise public housing developments, agents of change must now urgently reformulate, test, and realize architecture’s capacity to do more for its inhabitants. The plentiful shortcomings of CIAM’s “tower in the park” inspire a revised and conscientious design process for creating dense, urban living conditions by placing the human at the center of form and space. These environments and destinations connect activity on the sidewalk to flexible public space within the implied boundaries of the block. Upon incentivizing any approaching pedestrian, the architecture draws one in and provides a myriad of reasons to remain or return for future inhabitation. Intersections at multiple scales, programmatic reconfigurations, access to resources and transit options, and newly-framed views of the surrounding city establish an equitable framework for contemporary life.

Overall, optimistic architecture and urbanism redefines the purpose of what was once a precarious model for single-use public housing in American cities, isolated from the ground plane and its immediate context. These contemporary solutions support a humanistic agenda for architecture that contributes to reactivating the vacant blocks of Chicago’s former public housing towers.

Primary Thesis Advisor

Robert Cowherd, PhD, Professor, Wentworth

Secondary, Independent Advisors

Elizabeth Ghiseline, Interior Architecture Lecturer, Suffolk University

David Lee, FAIA, Co-founding Partner of Stull & Lee

Austin Samson, Adjunct Faculty, Wentworth