Exposed Urbanity

December 7, 2015

Project by Emily Louise Allen and Leandro Couto de Almeida.


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Rawness-Conceptual collage showing unpredictable futures. © Emily Louise Allen and Leandro Couto de Almeida.

In the urban context, emptiness is seen as the absence of value. Those with a political or capital stake in urban decisions embrace the articulation of planned, predictable future scenarios. However, because these leftover lands operate outside of the confines of the neoliberal city structure, they harbor social and ecological potential that does not—and cannot—exist elsewhere. This proposal asserts and embraces the hidden value of these spaces and subtracts, scrapes, and excavates from the ground plane as a mechanism for revealing aspects of the site and the violence of urbanization processes.

Urban designs that embraces the potential embedded within abandoned sites must reject the contemporary narrative of “improvement,” relinquish this position of power, and instead aim to establish conditions for a fuller urbanism to reveal itself.1 Cultivating the growth of these latent social and ecological potentials requires the intentional construction of space without an identity, upon which any multitude of interpretations may be projected. The erasure of excess of design, composition, or representation on the production of cities and landscapes offers an opportunity to a more democratic and honest urbanity, without the concerns of formality and completion of architects and designers.2

Urbanism is an inherently violent proposition.3 The rigidity of highly designed, overly controlled urban spaces inhibit individual desires and social spontaneity, and cannot adapt to the messiness of open-ended systems. This disruption of social and ecological possibilities deprives us of discoveries and surprises and impedes novel futures.

Urban development hides its brutality through a shiny, sophisticated veneer—one so far removed from the reality of development processes that any connection between the two is nearly invisible. Through subtraction, excavation, and scraping, the proposed scheme exposes raw earth—the primary ground condition of urban development. These earthmoving methodologies are strategically intermixed within the proposal’s polished surfaces to highlight the tension between urbanism’s two paradigms.

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Spontaneity-Conceptual collage showing the potential for spontaneity on the site. © Emily Louise Allen and Leandro Couto de Almeida.

Exploded Systems Axonometric

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Site Additions–Axonometric of proposed platform and typical plan buildings. The new design additions will be elevated from the existing surface level to create a higher level of contrast between the superimposed urbanism and the various ground condition treatments.

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Existing Site–Axonometric of existing site conditions and infrastructures. Because the spatial relationship between buildings and voids is mediated by a modular system, existing systems can be dismantled or preserved as needed.

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Site Excavations–Axonometric showing areas of the site to be excavated. By digging down to the water table, the excavations reveal the hydrological systems lost to reclamation, and create a network of runoff infiltration for the new development.

Detail Sections: Void Ground Treatment Strategies

The three void treatment strategies each reveal different layers of history, unseen value, and new potentials on the site.

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Ground Strategy 1: Preservation of Existing–Preserving existing ground conditions acknowledges the value of the current landscape in fostering spontaneous systems.

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Ground Strategy 2: Scraping–Scraping the land—clearing and removing only the surface-level systems—exposes the earth to create new possibilities for spontaneous colonization and indeterminate social futures.

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Ground Strategy 3: Excavation–Excavation is the counterpoint to historical land reclamation, recreating space for the ecological systems that have been lost to urbanization.

Vignettes / Site Perspectives as a moment in time

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Plan 1: Landscape Systems–This plan is an early diagrammatic study that approaches how our urban design methodology might be deployed across the entire 60-acre site.

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Plan 2: Site Plan Over Time–Deploying the strategy over a smaller area of the site, this plan explores the temporal relationship between the existing conditions, the planned future, and the construction phase between the two.

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Plan 3: Site Plan as a Moment in Time

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Vastness-Conceptual collage highlighting the site’s relationship to the greater Boston context through viewshed analysis.

Project Background

This proposal was developed for the third semester core landscape architecture studio at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, with the instruction of Sergio Lopez-Pineiro.

1 James Corner, “Landscraping,” in Stalking Detroit, ed. Georgia Daskalakis, Charles Waldheim, and Jason Young (Barcelona: Actar, 2001), 124.
2 Ibid., 124-125.
3 From the founding of Rome to contemporary redevelopment, cities are both a product and producer of violence. See Niccolò Machiavelli, The Discourses, ed. Bernard Crick, trans. Leslie J. Walker, S.J. (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), 131-134.