Penn State BArch Program: Urban Site Design (16 weeks, 2016)

with Laura DeLuca

Cities are meant to be read: every tree-lined residential street, every set-back glass facade, every incredibly tall skyscraper is meant to signal safety, intrigue, power, and more. Constructed on a strict grid system, New York City is a specific urbanity that is well-known for its ability to communicate through its navigability that transcends the mental maps of natives, allowing non-natives of the city to participate equally. But when there is a gap in the stitching of the consistent, authoritative, and therefore legible urban fabric, designers must mend this by continuing, not rejecting, the existing conditions of the encompassing urbanity.

A gap like this exists in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, New York City. Currently a parking lot, this site is perfectly nestled between the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, the older residential neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, and the developing tech hub at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Amenities including a transportation hub, market, restaurant, park, offices, apartment, and a multipurpose studio that continue the existing grid system of New York City act as an equalizer between natives of the city and visitors. This acceptance of the existing surroundings shows adaptability to the historic urbanity.

The first step in mending an urban fabric is to determine the placement and type of path on the site: to preserve the picturesque, winding nature of navigating a grid, the primary path ramps from the Northwest to the Southeast corners of the site. This thoroughfare is punctuated by secondary paths that allow passage between the buildings, which are organized by basic program types. The entrances of each building are designed specifically for their micro-environments: the market has a set back corner entry to mimic historic outdoor market plazas and to allow congregation at a highly visible, heavily-trafficked, and diversely populated intersection. The transportation hub, just to the south of the market, is open to pedestrians on the “interior” of the block, allowing metro riders to descend into the basement while guiding vehicles upwards in the parking garage. The facade is interactive, showing train schedules, traffic and weather updates, and more on the multiple ribbons that wrap around the parking decks. An outdoor screen faces the market, allowing visitors to the rooftop bar to screen special events and stage performances for the thoroughfare below. The residential building faces Bridge Street, with a facade that is broken down to mimic the individuality and diversity of the units within. The office building, residential building, and the market facades all face Front Street, creating a bustling commercial facade that connects the small commercial districts surrounding the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

By designing a multi-purpose, accessible, and grid-respecting community, this proposal mends the gap, continuing the patchwork of images that form pedestrians’ mental maps, communicating where they are, where they are going, and how they will get there while providing amenities that allow the site to be used by the diverse community of individuals that already inhabits the surrounding urban environment.