UD712 – MClain Clutter – unknown urbanism

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How do we know cities? What is a city as an object of knowledge? What intellectual constructs, media formats, and technologies allow us to make cities “knowable”? How do these constructs, formats, and technologies influence and intertwine with our expectations of urbanism and urban life? How do our ways of observing cities enable methods of design, and how can we think critically about that effect?

This first studio in the Taubman College Master of Urban Design sequence focused on techniques of understanding cities – through empirical observation, mapping, data, imaging, and mediation – and how these techniques of observation are instrumentalized within urban design. We leveraged contemporary ways of understanding cities to develop design proposals of possible urban realities, while cultivating a critical consciousness of the biases, limitations, and ideological proclivities embedded in our tools and techniques. The studio culminated in urban design proposals for our site in Willets Point, in the New York CIty borough of Queens.

Nicknamed “The Iron Triangle,” Willets Point is a 61 acre site between the Flushing Creek to the east, and CitiField to the west. Since World War II, Willets Point has been home to a collection of automobile scrapping, repair, and supply shops, and associated business. Over time, the businesses have developed a complex urban ecology, with many relying on one-another for material, services, and clientele. While some development plans have considered ways to relocate The Iron Triangle elsewhere in the city, protests against the redevelopment of Willets Point raise concern for the livelihoods of those who would lose their businesses or places of employment. Others point to the housing needs of the surrounding communities, and the precarity of the Willets Point businesses – in a location lacking infrastructure, and within a floodplain – as a reason to support redevelopment. This studio critically engaged this debate.

Student Work

Haorui Tian + Weiran Zhang + Yue Xu – “Working Class Collective”

Haorui Tian + Weiran Zhang + Yue Xu – working class collective

Working Class Collective focuses on one of the unique characteristics of Queens: the persistence of the working class. We studied various neighborhoods in Queens where industry and residential development mix, and applied those findings to our site in Willets Point. 

Today, Willets Point is dominated by auto-related services and junkyards. Our concept is to rebuild Willets Point for the working class collective, improving the quality of life for the local community. Building on the existing context, our project transforms Willets Point into a live-work light industrial complex for the food industry. The elements in the site are divided into eight categories: processing, warehouse, retail, transportation, recycling and Vertical Farming. To improve the quality of life for the working class, there are also many convenient residential areas, commercial areas and public spaces above factories. Site circulation is divided into two parts: ground and skywalk. The ground is mainly for work and logistics, and the skywalk is for daily life.

Because of the pollution and flooding problems, sustainable development strategies are proposed. We use a stormwater park and green spaces to mitigate the flood risk. These green spaces can also be used to cap remaining lightly contaminated soil and decompose pollution. Further, a recycling strategy is adopted to supply power and recycled packaging for the site.

Marco Nieto “FLUIDIC ECHO”

Fluidic Echo explores the sewerage infrastructure of Queens, its negative cultural connotation, and its potential to exist beyond the framework of its function. By negotiating a new relationship between waste, human habitation, and remediation, the project turns the wastewater treatment process into a sensible landscape. 

Because sewerage infrastructure is veiled – either purposefully hidden from view or seamlessly entwined with parts of the built environment – it’s difficult to pinpoint how it impacts our lives. It’s also difficult to ponder what potential sewerage has as a benefit to the long-term health of cities, since it’s often inaccessible. The failure to identify these problems and potentials is a lost opportunity for planners and designers. However, if we consider sewerage infrastructure as a matter of concern rather than a matter of waste, then it can become part of a broader dialogue where its sensible and social effects are as important as its engineering function.

Fluidic Echo’s design strategy takes the form of a “plastic ecology” – a malleable and simultaneous combination of ecological infrastructures and cultural programs that stimulate the prospects of the contaminated conditions of Willets Point. The mechanical advantage of this strategy allows the self-contained system made up of intersecting parts and processes to be accessed by the public, overcoming the schism between waste and habitation. Each step is varied and operates through graduating scales of exchange, incorporating elements designed to operate individually and in unison. As a synthetic wastewater cultural landscape, these infrastructures suggest new forms of social life and aesthetic experience.

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