The Urban Palimpset: Constructing a Sense of Place Through Experiential Layers

Material Information

The Urban Palimpset: Constructing a Sense of Place Through Experiential Layers
Schafer, Challie
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Architectural design ( jstor )
Architectural styles ( jstor )
Cities ( jstor )
City blocks ( jstor )
Contemporary legends ( jstor )
Elementary schools ( jstor )
Mythological time ( jstor )
Outdoor theaters ( jstor )
Persona ( jstor )
Streets ( jstor )
New York (State)--New York
Public Spaces
Undergraduate Honors Thesis


This project deals with the construction of a new meaning in architecture through exploring the mythological characteristics of New York City. Understanding this metropolis' urban fabric led to an attempt to restructure a new plan for a 200ft by 800ft New York City block that includes both public program in a raised garden, an exterior theater, and a public elementary school, as well as in private program including office space and both affordable and luxury living. Visual and spatial interactions were created between each program to maintain a connectedness with the spirit of New York City. This process reinforced a new theoretical meaning for architecture found within relationships between experiential layers. ( en )
General Note:
Awarded Bachelor of Design; Graduated May 3, 2011 summa cum laude. Major: Architecture
General Note:
College/School: College of Design, Construction and Planning
General Note:
Legacy honors title: Only abstract available from former Honors Program sponsored database.
General Note:
Advisor: Bradley Walters

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
Copyright Challie Schafer. 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.

Full Text


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 1 CHALLIE SCHAFER HONORS THESIS UNDERSTANDING THE URBAN FABRIC Modern architectural theorists have expressed concern that due to technological innovation the practice of architecture has become about efficiency and effectiveness instead of about finding a greater hat we, as architects, have departed from a historical desire to connect ourselves to the cosmos, it is incorrect to assume that we no longer build in search of meaning beyond ourselves. Architectural theorist Perez Gomez is accurate in so many of his expl anations about the role of technology in our current cultural climate, but he fails to prove that so constricted by their historical perspective. It is not logical to imply that the mythological beliefs upon which we construct modern architecture should remain constant through such drastic changes in context. Through the exploration of the ever changing urban fabric of New York City and the design of a rec onstructed city block, this project begins to create relationships between mythology and technology by reinterpreting the meaning of architecture through phenomenology and experience The Dynamic Layers of New York City The ideas of phenomenology and experience are directly present in the complex city of New elves supporting the mutant form of human 1 New York City consists of what is entirely a human built experience; a process aided by technology. Not every building in the city is architectural, nor do 1 Koolhaas, Rem. "'Life in the Metropolis' or 'The Culture of Congestion'." In Achitecture Theory Since 1968 by K. Michael Hayes, 321 332. New York: MIT Press, 1977.


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 2 many of them fo llow the mythical proportions that Perez Gomez suggests, but somehow the city still evokes a descriptive, emotional experience within those that live there and visit there every day. 2 The city inspires thought and a deep emotional connection through time and across a diverse range of people to create a link to a greater meaning, quite similar to the one Perez Gomez describes when discussing the historical co 3 Figure 1a: Layered sketch of spatial congestion of NYC Figure 1b : Layered sketch of spatial congestion of NYC These ideas directly contradict Perez 4 disprove Perez he loss of myth within architecture. This urban fabric was elevator and the steel frame (the latter with its uncanny ability to support the newly identified territories without itself taking any space), any given site in the Metropolis could now be multiplied ad 5 Skyscrapers created an entirely new layer in the city and in turn produced a new medium for architects to explore. The infa tuation with building into the sky has raised questions 2 (Koolhaas, The Culture of Congestion or Life in the Metropolis, 322) 3 (Koolhaas, The Culture of Congestion or Life in the Metropolis, 322) 4 (Perez Gomez, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science 1983, 467) 5 (Koolhaas, The Culture of Congestion or Life in the Metropolis, 327)


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 3 story, the ground plane below the tower, or see the structure piercing the skyline. We attemp t to contend with the idea of stacking and layering. Layers become an entity within which we search for spatial relationships Gomez experiences on a single place that was previously 6 which identify skyscrapers as a realized architectural myth. New York as a New Ground simultaneous explosion of modern technologies and human population on their limited territories, they 7 The city of New York is a response to the needs of the inhabitants and has remai ned as an ever growing, ever changing construction. It is because of technology that the city began to morph, creating a snapshot of the architectural process through an experiment in urbanism. New York City becomes architecture in itself, as a space conce ived completely by humans. Koolhaas points out that the city is a creation drawn 8 sion on the metropolis could not sustain the needs or desires of the growing population. What came of this need is 6 (Koolhaas, The Cult ure of Congestion or Life in the Metropolis, 327) 7 (Koolhaas, The Culture of Congestion, 322) 8 (Koolhaas, The Culture of Congestion, 324)


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 4 never existed before, it can never escape of being the result of human 9 of any immovable reference, but under the obligation to posit for every step both its goal and its 10 This new plane on which New York operates, derived from the layers of necessity, technology, and imagination, becomes the realization of a theo retical architecture that connects people through a succession of created experiences. Figure 1c: Experiential Mapping Study of New York City CONCEPTION AND EXECUTION OF DESIGN The process for the design of this city block was initiated with a visit to the site located in the South, and 10th and 11th Avenue, East and West. Travelin g a few blocks west brings you to Hudson River, while traveling a few blocks east will bring one to Times Square. The site is located within a heavily residential area, with a few small shops, bars, and restaurants. More recently the area has seen some sig nificant change with the construction of some high rise residential buildings along the 42nd street 9 (Koolhaas, The Culture of Congestion, 324) 10 (Sola Morales, Architecture, 617Weak)


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 5 has begun to morph and create a new relationship with the rest of the city. The requirements for this project were a design for a plan for the 1600 square foot New York City block that included residential spaces, both luxury and affordable, office and retail space, and the renovation or redesign of the existing elementary school on site while keeping in mind the identit y of New York City. During the visit to New York City a special interest in the many layers that define the city began to emerge. This lead to a process of dissection and analysis of some of the most unique aspects of New York City such as Times Square, Ce ntral Park, the subway system, the structural grid of the city, residential destinations, and tourist destinations. Each idea was described as a set of spatial and experiential terms that together make up the experience of New York City as a place. Fig ure 2 a: Conceptual plan diagrams of the site Sketches by Challie Schafer and Samantha Nalbach It is through the intersections, overlaps, and connections of these spatial ideas of the city that new spaces within the project began to emerge. At this point a set a conceptual plan diagrams, shown in Figure 2 a, were conceived as a starting point for the design. Like the many iconic places in the city, these other, leaving residue of past experiences in the current ones. These connections are formed through v isual and physical layers of occupation. The significance and identity of the place is thus formed by the layers, like a palimpsest, and are subjective to personal experience.


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 6 These layers were addressed at the scale of the public occupant first in plan, as shown in Figure 3b and then again in section. Figure 3a is a section through the length of the site showing the connections between these public spaces and how they interact spatially and visually. The corners of the site were left open, allowing circulation from the surrounding neighborhoods to move through the site and begin to interact and engage with the new program of the site. Figure 3a : Section cut through the length of the site (800ft) Image by Challie Schafer and Samantha Nalbach


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 7 Figure 3b: Plan of Site Image by Challie Schafer and Samantha Nalbach Included in this new program were an outdoor theater, a public garden, and an elementary school. The elementary school was left in its original position on the north edge of the site, centered about 400ft from the street edges running East and West. The school creat es the boundary for circulation moving in from the North while providing a dynamic experience for those moving along t he street (Figure 4a). The playground, a main component of the rest of the program.


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 8 Figure 4a: Elementary School Skin from 45th Street (Northern Edge) Image by Challie Schafer and Samantha Nalbach The public garden seen in Figure 4b is located four stories up from the base of the tower creating the edge of 10th Avenue. Serving as an elevated gree n space, the view overlooks the interior of the city block, revealing the outdoor theater and gallery building below, maintaining the experience of a spatial and visual connection of each public space.


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 9 Figure 4b: Rendering of Raised, Exterior Garden Image by Challie Schafer and Samantha Nalbach The outdoor theater space seen in Figure 4c acts as a neighborhood unifier location along the south border and between the main towers on 10th and 11th Avenues it serves as a main gathering space and the connector between the office program and the residential program. The wall on the South, bordering 44th Stre et, has a series of perforations that allow occupants to interact visually with the pedestrians, blurring the boundary between stage and street and encouraging impromptu public exchanges. Each space was carefully considered as a moment with a visual and s patial transition into the next space. These visual and spatial layers of occupation begin to creat e an architecture of experience. These man built moments become the meaning of the architecture itself through their connections to New York City and their c onnections to eachother.


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 10 Figure 4c: Rendering of Outdoor Theater Space Image by Challie Schafer and Samantha Nalbach


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 11 Figure 4d: Render of Overall City Block Image by Challie Schafer and Samantha Nalbach CONCLUSIONS To experience is to be present and aware of your senses. To experience is to have a physical and psychological connection. To experience is to feel Modern architecture has become immersed in this idea of experience. The itinerary through a construction, t he effects of light and shadow, the pattern and texture of materials, the details of construction, the spatial organization, and the tectonics come together to create a set of experiences within an architecture. Historically, architectural meaning was de fined by a clear and precise connection to the cosmos. Within modern architecture the definition is not as clear. This is not due to lack of meaning, however. The range of understanding of architectural meaning has grown along with our disillusion with ove rarching ideas about religion and science. Today, it is more likely for architecture to be defined as a set of influential experiences that produces personal reflection within the inhabitant. New York City as an architectural construct becomes an example o f a possible modern view of architectural theory.


THE URBAN PALIMPSEST | 12 the labyrinth; it becomes difficult for one to understand the city as a whole idea not only because of the city is a set of experiential moments that may give the occupant some idea of the meaning of the architecture through the physical and psychological occupati on of the space, rather than a general view of the entirety of the architecture. 11 The architecture of New York cannot be categorized as a single style or movement, and it would be unproductive to attempt to analyze the city in this manner. Still, the city itself has become an icon, a prototype for the modern city, and is recognized all over the world. But to someone who has never actually stepped foot within Manhattan, the essence of the city is not the same. As accurately as media can portray the place, i ts intensity is not truly realized for any person until they have been there to experience it themselves. No words, images, or film can represent the feeling that is New York. Traveling down a street gazing up at sky scrapers, shifting through crowds of pe ople, dashing over cross walks, hearing the multitude of sounds, traveling on a crowded subway, smelling street food, moving through Central Park, seeing the electricity of Times Square, and pacing the edge of storefronts are all spectacles that can only b 12 This idea is easily expressed in the architectural experience of New York City and this project Holistic rationality is forsaken for the emot ion evoked in the experience. For it is through emotion that architecture acquires it strength. 11 Tschumi, Bernard. "The Architectural Paradox." In Architectural Theory Since 1968 by K. Michael Hayes, 215 228. New York City: The Trustees of Columbia University, 1998. 12 (Tschumi, The Architectural Paradox, 222)