Master Dissertation Design Studio: Multiple Readings, Multiple Interventions.

Picture by Alvin Baltrop, New York, 1971-1991

Announcing a new architectural design studio for the Hudson Riverfront, Manhattan, New York, USA.

Alvin Baltrop (1948 – February 1, 2004) was an American photographer whose work focused on the dilapidated Hudson River piers and LGBTQ+ communities during the 1970s and 1980s prior to the AIDS crisis. During decades, he documented the decay of the Hudson riverfront through photography series about the daily life in the streetscapes of this part of Manhattan. Through this photographical documentary, he did not only show the life of a poor and socially rejected community, he also proved how a fastly transforming metropolis needs certain urban areas as social buffer zones, to cherish small pockets of spatial ambiguity or un-definedness that allow struggling communities to claim a necessary presence and habitat within the city. These ambiguous spaces also embody multiplicity in use and users, which can be seen as a quintessential urban condition. In the 1970s and 1980s, the riverfront areas were not programmed for profit-driven development and were left out of functional zoning proposals, void of any architectural intervention, as at that moment the piers and the industrial maritime activity were in decay. Nevertheless, this void in programming allowed suppressed communities to unfold and leave their hiding places, and enabled them to fight to be recognised and play a part in contemporary society, a fight that unfortunately seems to become necessary once again…

During the last decades however, the whole Hudson riverfront area, especially in the lower part (from Greenwich Village to Chelsey), has been fully developed and transformed into a mainstream and high-end urban quarter. Star architects helped to contribute to exclusive commercial and residential development, while focusing on leisure, sport and culture for the outdoor spaces. In this operation, most pier buildings were sacrificed or transformed for the same purpose. Nevertheless, some pier buildings still exist, unpretentiously configured within the Hudson riverfront park. Since the mentioned redevelopment of the riverfront, minority groups are no more present in the area, due to the high prices of the property and the overprogrammed-ness of the area: it is as if the whole area lost large part of its ambiguity and multiplicity within. There is uncertainty of how this area will further develop, especially in a post-covid19 era…

The master dissertation project, part of the Master of Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture, KU Leuven (Belgium) and within the Streetscape Territories framework, will study the existing riverfront landscape and its full and constant transformation and use this to propose multiple architectural interventions on site. The master dissertation studio is divided in two semesters:

During the fall semester 2021, which will happen in remote condition, we will study New York both as a real and as an imaginative construct and look at the city in a broader scope, through movies, documentaries, novels as to grasp its constant transformation that is the base of any intervention. The purpose of this initial conceptual research is to develop “multiple lenses” that lead to “multiple readings” of the city and of the Hudson River area. Developing his/her/their own “lenses and readings” of the area, each student will then build a personal and critical narrative to approach this site in constant transformation.

The visit to the site will happen in between the first and second semester, when the suggested “lenses and readings” will be tested and further developed.

During the spring semester 2022, each individual student will propose and develop multiple architectural or landscape interventions that are the result of the proposed “lenses and readings. The project can have various formats (a series of buildings, of landscape interventions, a curated exhibition, etc).

The studio is also part of the NYhub the Faculty of Architecture has set up in New York (see https://arch.kuleuven.be/english/international/the-new-york-hub) and will work with local or remote professionals and academics in New York to help develop the projects.

We hope to engage with you with our findings and proposals! Stay tuned!

For more information: check here

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