Architecture Design Option Studio — The Building as Flexible Structure

4.145 or 4.153
Required of: 

Is there a way architecture can stay flexible? What design can keep up over time with unforeseeable developments and adapt itself to an ever changing urban environment as well as to the constantly changing needs within a building? We’ll discuss how architecture can react to constantly changing parameters, while influencing or defining them at the same time. We’ll explore our role as directors of urban and social transformation through design on the search for heterogeneous urban situations where different forms of living and working together are possible.

One way to make a building as self-sustaining as possible is to supercharge it with high tech infrastructures. While for many cases this may be a valid approach, sustainability is also an important social, urban and architectural issue, which asks for architectural solutions. How long a building will and can be used depends very much on a long lasting freedom of use and the buildings flexibility. The more a building allows for future changes and adaptions of use, the more it’s allowing for different future utilizations. The more the structure and the initial concept is allowing for program changes, - which in the initial clients brief may be unknown - the longer the building will last and be utilized. This of course also extends the buildings impact to its vicinity. Considering this time span, the initial expression of the buildings structure gets even more important.

Studio Objectives
The studio will explore what visions and designs are needed to guide fundamental urban transformation and densification projects while examining how homogeneous urban zones with typological and programmatic clusters could be avoided.

We’ll discuss what type of buildings could work as urban generators and attractors by bringing rapidly a large variety of public and private programs to a site, from temporary small scale shops to housing, hotels, schools and other public infrastructures. These are buildings which can work as activators, are able to react to unknown future realities and which foster affordable commercial opportunities and temporary interventions. All this in order to reinforce the sites identity without denying its industrial heritage.

All projects should be considered part of an unfinished chain, which started long before us and which will be continued by someone coming later with other ideas and another agenda. One of the main questions will be: how much do we have to control and what can be left unfinished, open for someone else to finish?

Studio Development
Part 1 - Urban Storyboard / 4 weeks

During Part 1 the students will think about the potential of a given urban situation. First during a one week exercise entitled "transformation and imagination" where students will work from afar through investigations using maps, aerials, photos, google earth, etc. After two weeks we will do a trip to Philadelphia with a site visit and an evening walk through the site. The focus will then be on different type of day and night mobility/activity. During the evening, we’ll start looking for the potential of the site in terms of identity, access, existing and future (public) programs etc.

Students will then develop a strategic proposal for an urban vision, called "Urban Storyboard", on and around the chosen perimeter and in relation to the bigger surrounding metropolitan area. The storyboard is the graphical representation of a territorial strategy before becoming a real master plan and will be a reference tool which will serve as urban guidelines during the whole semester.

Part 2 - Project / 10 weeks
For the project part of the Fall Semester we’ll look for buildings and concepts, which have an impact on an urban scale. We’ll search for long living architectural solutions, which at the same time have the power and strength to contribute to a site’s identity or even help to create a new identity. We’ll look for the potential, which grows out of its use and out of the changing parameters and discuss how to make a strategic proposal, which has an impact on a larger urban scale and what the determining factors for a longer lasting of a building are.

The architectural solutions and structures can be very simple and robust or very exciting and iconic. But all of them should have the capability to absorb future changes without compromising the basic idea of the building. This means that all projects will have to be as flexible as possible and at the same time as specific in its structure and architectural expression as needed - for both the site and the program. The students will work on the definition of large scale mixed use programs and define its sizes and the internal complexity which will be needed to continue and to respond to the primary defined guidelines and vision of the urban storyboard.

The load bearing structure of a building is also an important urban indicator, as the structure either allows or not for a superposition of different typologies and programs. In every project the structure should be thought, re-thought and developed as an important design gesture which defines the expression of the building. The question is: how specific can the structure and the building itself be, when we already know that the future use may be very different from its primary use?

Project Site
The city of Philadelphia has a long industrial history and used to be known as the "Workshop of the World", producing everything from textiles to locomotives and ships. But after World War II the industry went into decline and only in the last couple of decades the city’s experienced a huge renaissance, which has accelerated even more in the last couple of years. The city became more and more a hub for the arts, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, education, and media. In addition high tech is a growing industry, with incubators at Universities such as Penn and Drexel. As a result of the city’s partial resurrection, there has been a boom in urban (re)development in the construction industry with billions of dollars outlined to be further invested. Our urban project perimeter is located on both sides of the Schuylkill River and next to the 30th Street Station. The area is close to the city center and the formerly strong industrial influence is still very present.

Class trip
We will visit Philadelphia and the urban project perimeter. The site visit will begin with a survey of the working perimeter and an evening walk through the site. As mentioned above, the focus will then be on different type of day and night mobility/activity. During the evening, we’ll start looking for the potential of the site in terms of identity, access, existing and future (public) programs, etc.