How Do You Want to Live in a City?  Transforming a Manhattan Block Into an Urban Woodland

Material Information

How Do You Want to Live in a City? Transforming a Manhattan Block Into an Urban Woodland
Sistino, Bryan
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Architectural design ( jstor )
Cities ( jstor )
City blocks ( jstor )
City squares ( jstor )
Labyrinths ( jstor )
Paradoxes ( jstor )
Public space ( jstor )
Social interaction ( jstor )
Tectonics ( jstor )
Woodlands ( jstor )
New York (State)--Clinton
Public spaces
Undergraduate Honors Thesis


This project involves the transformation of an industrial city block into a mixed-use development for the neighborhood of Clinton, New York City. The immediate proximity of DeWitt Clinton Park provides an opportunity to extend green space into the city as an elevated forest. This elevation creates an intense public space on the street level that activates the city and allows the residential towers to exist in an urban woodland. The goal was to create a hierarchy of public spaces with varying degrees of intensity. The task was accomplished by dividing the block into three distinct zones ranging from most intense to least intense: 1. the city avenue; 2. the neighborhood avenue; and 3. the residential streets. A public plaza promotes a more intense public space activated by urban attractors while maintaining its urban presense in the city. The elevated urban woodland creates a calmer public space that can be considered a retreat from the city while maintaining direct physical and visual connections. The dichotomy of these public spaces in relation to urban morphology is the generator of the spatial solution used to drive the form of the block. ( en )
General Note:
Awarded Bachelor of Design; Graduated May 4, 2010 magna cum laude. Major: Architecture
General Note:
Advisor(s): Alfonso Perez-Mendez
General Note:
College/School: College of Design, Construction and Planning

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
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Copyright Bryan Sistino. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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How Do You Want To Live In A City? [t ransforming a manhattan block Into an urban w oodland ] Bryan Sistino [in troduction of urban precedents for new urban development]: Figure 1 m "The experience of architecture is wedged in a gap between two architectural surfaces, two edges of the pyramid and the labyrinth, two types of pleasure, one conceptual, culturally conservative, and rule bound, the other sensual, transgressive, even violent. It is th e gap that is erotic." [Bern ard Tschumi An Architectural Paradox ] Times Square in the heart of Midtown and its polar opposition, the elevated Highline that runs through Chelsea and the Meat Packing District, are two of the most recognizable landmarks on the island of Manhattan. Experientially, these spaces currently could not be less alike; however, after careful investigation it becomes apparent that these urban conditions actually shared some similarities throughout the evolution of the city. The division occurs in the reconst ruction and reification of the city through generations of occupants and spectators. Times Square, a moment of intensity and activity, and the Highline, a moment of calmness and reflection, are both highly perceptual and experiential; however they are so in vastly different ways. They operate on unthinkably different precepts and have profoundly different effects on the human psyche and perception. Through investigation of these urban conditions, and in particular through the themes of architectural ima ge and subject in relation to Bernard Tschumi's concept of the pyramid and the labyrinth, it becomes apparent that Times Square operates solely on a sensual, impulsive level while the duality of the sensual with the conceptual allows the Highline to have a much more intelligent framework and history and potentially a more stable future.


Architectural theorists Juhanni Pallasmaa and Vittorio Gregotti both articulate architectural thought in response to image and its relationship to subject They both gene rally agree in authentic image making as forming meaning though constructing architectural form as a way of making the world.' Gregotti makes the separation between image (substantial, performative) and market image (appearance, figurative) in that image is the physical construction that affects the lived experience while market image is just how the architectural objects looks and appears. 1 Ultimately, the market image does not become integral to actual spatiality or tectonic logic while image goes past appearance into perception and effect. Pallasmaa draws the connection between market image and what he considers empty sentimentality' an empty mimesis at the level of formal operations. 2 While the Highline and Times Square cannot be solely classifie d into one or the other, it becomes apparent that Times Square relies too heavily on this market image which in turn results in an empty sentimentality that is not based on any spatial or tectonic ordering. Figure 2 1 Gregotti, V. 1996. Inside Architecture. London and Cambridge: The MIT Press. [On Image ] 2 Pallasmaa, J. 1986. The Geometry of Feeling: A Look at the Phenomenology of Architecture. In Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965 1995 ed. K. Nesbitt, 448 453. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.


Tschumi s ets up the paradox between two modes of architecture: the conceptual, holistic, physical, structured and organized which is the pyramid and the perceptual, sensual, experiential, impulsive and personal which is the labyrinth. It is his opinion that archit ectural experience must exist between these two independent forces and thus becomes the inseparable connection between the two. 3 In general this notion is applied to an urban context or experience as it is built or was intended to be built however it be comes much more convoluted when evaluating such complex public spaces such as Times Square and the Highline. Instead of solely investigating the conception of the space or the way the space exists today, we must evaluate them not as a snapshot in time bu t as an evolution of ideas and forms. Figure 3 The spaces are currently extremely different than when they were built and are used in ways that would be impossible to imagine when they were conceived. Both can be considered maj or infrastructural nodes in the context however those are secondary, tertiary, or even obsolete functions now. The Highline was constructed as an elevated train track that ran through the third level of several meat packing plants. It has long since been shut down and has become an eyesore filled with overgrown weeds creating a breeding ground for illicit drug deals and sexual encounters. However, it is in the process of becoming a one and a half mile lyrical itinerary of sculptural landscape that hovers above the congestion of the city, and if not for this 3 Tschumi, B. 1975. The Architectural Paradox. In Ar chitecture Theory Since 1968 ed. K. M. Hays 214 229. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1998.


transformation it would still be long forgotten. This transformation illuminates the dichotomy between the holistic and organizational notions of the pyramid and juxtaposes it with the sensual and per ceptual aspects of the labyrinth. Through surgery like precision, the Highline has become a didactic landscape which imbues the qualities of the pyramid and the labyrinth virtually seamlessly and creates a calm moment of reflection in the city. Times Squ are has taken quite a unique turn from its historical roots as well. Originally gaining its popularity and its identity through the addition of the New York Times headquarters, it also became a cultural hub full of theaters, music halls and hotels. Its h istory has been marked by crime, corruption, gambling, and prostitution, especially in the post Great Depression times and its subsequent declivity. It is now an elaborate circuit of advertisement and seduction. It is the only neighborhood that is require d by zoning to display illuminated signs causing the buildings to become merely exoskeletons for the lights. This type of disregard for architecture has compounded and hinders the progression of the area to become architecturally relevant. Its survival is based purely on the unpredictability of the market image and the impulsive energy of the labyrinth that is so vibrant in the area. This is a vulnerable place to exist because it has no conceptual or organizational framework to fall back on. The inves tigation of these urban contexts reinforces the notion that we must exist in the gap between the pyramid and labyrinth and not let one aspect take over or we will be at the mercy of that element. Moreover, it reinforces the importance of creating the conc eptual and physical framework for a project because architecture based on the labyrinth alone cannot survive.


[investigation of manhattan project in terms of calmness and intensity] Figure 4 The building of the City s hall seek out certain satisfying relationships that shall characterize its singularity and institute its memory. The code and the plan are the armatures for the expression and extension of such preferences and the protocol for experiment. Their fulfillme nt acts as a stimulus to art, in its friendship with the private and collective imagination. [Michael Sorkin Local Code ] Investigating New York spaces such as Times Square and the Highline become crucial precedents when charged with the task of designi ng a mixed use Manhattan block that emphasizes, but is certainly not limited to, public spaces and residential housing. While the architectural spaces of the Highline and Times Square may not relate on a direct level, analytical studies can generate a str ategy for intervention in the city, especially in relation to their image and its subsequent effect on the proposed subject. Investigating contemporary relationships within the city and evaluating the successes and follies of these relationships can gener ate rules upon which the design concept can evolve. This notion can be observed in response to the criticism of modern architecture addressed by Kate Nesbitt and Michael Hays in their assessment that the profession of architecture is in a cultural crisis that results in spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy. 4 5 They believe that the goal of theory is to question the founding paradigmatic parameters that have been set before us and to re invent the world in a meaningful and relevant way. It is important t o note that at the moment of design there can exist no authentic authority to rightfully restrain the 4 Nesbit, K. 1996. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965 1995 New York: Princeton Architectural Press. [Introdu ction] 5 Hays, M. K. 1998. Architecture Theory Since 1968. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press [Introduction]


Figure 5 exploration into the possibilities of occupying material form. In relation to conceptualizing and designing a New York City block this means that the precedents of Times Square and the Highline can neither be ignored nor imitated. They must be evaluated and analyzed as is. The new architecture cannot be limited by or strive to emulate these existing conditions. Nesbitt and Hays stress the necessity of identifying the idiosyncrasies of the local culture and reacting to these factors when constructing an architectural intervention. They have identified the fact that no matter if we ignore the cultural implicati ons of society or not, they will ultimately exist; therefore, it would be beneficial to take advantage of these factors so that the architecture would progress society in a meaningful way. Through the architectural process, it is important to constantly construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct social and cultural paradigms in order to truly address the perpetual question of: How do you want to live in a city? Figure 6 residential towers urban woodland skin / structure volumetric massing site [block]


Michael Sorkin, in his 1993 book Local Code: The Const itution of a City at 42 degrees North Latitude creates a Bill of Rights upon which intervention in the city can be based. 6 This text of codes and conducts can be used as a baseline for what modern intervention in the city must include to be architectural ly relevant and sustainable. Sorkin's 19 amendments include a few that can act as conceptual generators for a Manhattan block such as follows: "City dwellers shall enjoy these civic rights: [1.1] The right to a city free to elaborate the basis of its own distinctiveness; [1.3] The right to a city with a harmonious and visible relationship with nature; [1.8] The right to a habitation that provides pleasure and comfort. At a minimum this will include space, sunlight, fresh air, sound construction, and acces s to available domestic and communications technology; and ultimately [1.18] The private right of beauty; and [1.19] The right to architecture." These requirements of civic rights as well as the charge to create something of architectural relevance with progressive implications combine to create a framework upon which the parti of the project can be generated. While the spaces of the Highline and Times Square are both fundamentally different from each other as well as from this project brief, the hindsig ht of their successes can be used to create a significant public space within the city. As a means of balancing these concepts, it became the priority of the project to create an intensified urban space on the street level serving as an urban magnet to ac tivate the neighborhood and the city, as well as to create an elevated landscaped area for the residential units that allows the dwellers a mom ent of calmness and reflection in the city. The attempt is to construct a didactic and dynamic city block that can act as a prototype for a way to live in the city. Figure 7 The project involves the trans formation of an industrial city block into a mixed use deve lopment for the neighborhood of Clinton in Hell's Kitchen, New York. The scope of project is unique in the city because of its direct connection with a sizable piece of public green space other than Central 6 Sorkin, M. 1993. Local Code: The Constitution of a City at 42 Degrees North Latitude New York: Princeton Architectural Press.


Park. DeWitt Clinton Park, a ten acre communal park with a large recreational field component, is situated directly adjac ent to the site just west of 11 th Avenue between 53 rd Street and 51 st Street. The immediate proximity of Clinton Park provides an opportun ity to extend green space out of the pre existing boundary of the park and into the city in the form of an elevated f orest. Thi s elevation affords a chance to create a more intense public space on the street lev el that addresses the city and allows the r esidential towers to exist in a calm urban woodland Figure 8 The concept dovetails with Gregotti's theory of method and creative thought and its subsequent effect on the image and perception of the final architectural object. 7 Through investigations of cultural and societal aspects of how people want to live and combining them to create a ne w type of urban environment, thinking anew becomes a way of making anew within the city context. By giving precedence to this process, architecture as a way of thinking and making becomes a way to understand the world in built form. This type of careful consideration of the interaction between image and subject only serves to allow the architecture to go beyond the basic requirements of function to create a series of spaces that serves to heighten the occupant's senses and create a unique appreciation of place. The attempt is not a superficial 1 plaza 2 movie theaters 3 car museum / hotel lobby 4 grocery store / shopping 5 recreation fields 6 fitness facility 7 restaurants 8 main resi dential lobby Figure 9 7 Gregotti, V. 19 96. Inside Architecture. London and Cambridge: The MIT Press. [On Procedure]


function of the market; it is instead a sincere attempt to imbue character as a basic element of the architectural object through the process of forming meaning. The meaning maintains releva nce by researching current contextual relationships at broadest level of the general public in the city down to the individual residents. Deriving from the precedents of Times Square and the Highline in terms of their public spaces, t he aim was to create a hierarchy of pub lic spaces with varying degrees of intensity. This task was accomplished by dividing the block into three distinct zone s ranging from most intense to least intense: 1: the city sector (10th aven ue), 2: the neighborhood sector (11th aven ue ) and 3: the residential sector ( between 52nd + 53rd streets ) A public concourse / plaza on 10th Ave. promotes a more intense public space activated by urban attracto rs while maintaining its urban presence in the city. The elevated urban woodland cre ates a calmer public space that can be considered a retreat from the city while maintaining direct p hysical and visual connections. The dichotomy of these public spaces in relation to its urban morphology is the generator of the spatial solution used to drive the form of the block. This sectional manipulation of public space allocates over 1,500,000 square feet of total interior construction with over 150,000 square feet of exterior public space an unprecedented ratio for an urban environment. The bl ock is energized in the city by four main urban attractors: a movie theater, a car museum that doubles as a hotel lobby, a grocery store combined with other commercial programs, and a sports and fitness recreation center. The diversity and complexity of pr ogram attempts to draw pe ople in from all over the city, while at the same time it aims to provide conven ience to the residents. These attractors ensure that the block wi ll always be occupied by people and promotes a healthy way to live in the city The conception and interaction between these urban attractors is not simply limited to the mere programmatic Figure 10 / 11


o rganization in plan, however. As exposed in Evan's thoughts on social image, 8 the pla n does not necessarily become the prevai ling factor when thinking about human interactions through space and time because inevitably the plan alone doesn't compel people to behave in a particular way towards one another. It is more important the way the plan manifests itself into an urban morph ology and the way it is occupied and experienced by the subject not as singular moments but as a sequence of architectural events. These events, both social and spatial, are not just programmatic abstractions, but are lived phenomena at the level of peopl e, light, movement, etc. constituents of experience that accentuate a sense of place within the city. The architectural experience is not only focused on ordering space and time for the individual, but also as a way to invent new possibilities of social interaction for subjects as a collective body. Figure 12 Steven Holl describes experience as the interrelation of our brains and our bodies with the world. 9 Through experience we reinvent our relationship with time and space through our senses. The f acet of the project where this type of expression of experience is most apparent is in the urban woodland, the elevated forest that provides a moment of reflectance for the 8 Evans, R. 1978. Figures, Doors, and Passages. In Translations From Drawing to Building Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1998. 9 Holl. S. 2007. House: Black Swan Theory New York: Pri nceton Architectural Press.


dwellings. Not only is this the main conceptual element that ultimately unifies th e block, but it provides the image for the city. The elevated towers in th e urban woodland and separated p rogrammatically. Out of a total of six towers, t he four tow ers farthest west are housed by permanent residents while t he two closest to the plaza ar e h otels and other related program. The towers organic cylindrical form is utilized to allow a 360 degree vista of the city and the feeling of truly living within a forest. "Architecture must remain experimental and open to new ideas and aspirations. In the face of the tremendous conservative forces that constantly push it towards the already proven, already built, and already thought, architecture must explore the not yet felt. Only in an aspiring mode can the visions of our lives be concretized and the joy shared with future generations." 10 The quotation by Holl qualifies the necessity for architectural innovation like the urban woodland in New York City and how this type of methodological process of evaluating the potential of a situation can be pushed to the limit to reinvent the way life in a city is traditionally conceived. It stresses the importance of thinking, documenting, and designing based on the conceptual framework of the pyramid and through experimentation and innovation the sensual and per sonal labyrinth of experience will emerge in a meaningful way for each individual occupant Figure 13 / 14 10 Holl, S. 1996. Intertwining. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.