Last academic year, following the previous research and design projects in New York (2013-2018), the Streetscape Territories research practice presented the Master of Architecture students of KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture with a site-specific framework to develop a master dissertation.
During one entire year, in collaboration with our colleagues at Pratt Institute New York and many local stakeholders, the studio focused on Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. As it is always the case for the Streetscape Territories studios, we started our research through intense in situ fieldwork, trying to understand the neighborhood’s transformation through its changing streetscapes, not through top-down planning schemes. The streetscapes of Red Hook, in all their variety, were our starting point and urban laboratory. Through consistent research and a specific architectural design proposal, the students were asked to formulate a critical answer to the current challenges of social, economical, cultural and physical nature.
Red Hook, a rich multiplicity of neighborhoods and communities, is characterized by what we defined as a “pivotal scale condition”. This means that the proper inhabitants’ daily routines seem to be squeezed in between different transformation processes that occur at different scales. At a large scale, we can not ignore the impact of major infrastructural elements, restricting the area’s accessibility and permeability (expressway fly-over, port, tunnels, NYCHA housing schemes …). Simultaneously, we can also detect a series of ordinary small scale initiatives (productive incubators, housing clusters, grassroots initiatives…) that equally define the neighborhood. The missing link here is a proper focus on what could happen at the intermediate scale, where all processes of transformation could come together and create higher levels of social cohesion and engagement, increase the area’s productivity and find sustainable answers to the overall development of the neighborhood. Responding to this, each of the students was asked to unfold a proper research strategy and building on its results, propose a coherent architectural intervention that would operate at the intermediate scale, that would bridge the gap.
Below you can find some examples of what we achieved. We borrowed the famous Alison and Peter Smithson’s slides-with-voice-over technique (see their “Signs of Occupancy” lecture in London, 1979) to share our thoughts and projects with you. No, do not expect purely profit-driven development projects or glossy facades to improve a neighborhood. Neither did we go for the provocative only-for-architects approach to make proposals (even if we do produce sexy discourses and attractive images to sell our ideas). We did try to make critical and constructive proposals, we developed realistic yet innovative projects to contribute to a sustainable and resilient neighborhood, where the proper inhabitants are the only protagonists.
We hope you enjoy the presentations!