This weekend, we had the opportunity to attend the Open Studio event at MoMA’s PS1. As we mentioned earlier, this project posed the daunting question of how to re-think, re-organize and re-energize the concept of an American suburb in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. As MoMA’s Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Barry Bergdoll explains, “Projects will aim to challenge cultural assumptions concerning home ownership and associated settlement patterns, such as suburban sprawl, and assist the public in contemplating a potentially different future for housing and cities. The workshop and exhibition are premised on reframing the current crisis as an opportunity, an approach that is in keeping with the fundamental American ethos where challenging circumstances engender innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. It is our hope that new paradigms of architecture and regional and transportation planning become the silver lining in the crisis of home ownership.” The five multidisciplinary teams chose five different American suburbs to explore, and this Saturday, we jumped from Oregon to Florida, to Illinois, to California and New Jersey, to observe their five quite different solutions.
Check out our preview of the teams’ work-in-progress projects which will be exhibited at the MoMA this February.
We began the afternoon off with WORKac’s Amale Andraaos and Dan Wood’s visions for Salem-Keizer, Oregon. Their proposal is an extension of the suburb which, although site specific, has been designed in an abstracted way to serve as a plug in model to create cities elsewhere. The plan include large bands that serve as swaths of nature. We loved their amazing model which shows the diversity of their housing typologies. Each kind of housing has a different kind of green space, whether it be in the form of a private garden, collective green space or inner courtyard. While cars are allowed in the scheme as it is an extension of the suburb, vehicular circulation is not encouraged as streets are narrowed to provide more intimate pedestrian settings. The plan is a mixed use condition with spaces for live and work, and large bridges linking the programs across the vast fields of nature.
From there, we headed to check in on Michael Bell of Visible Weather who studied Temple Terrace, Florida. The project focused on developing 2.2 miles of boulevard in Temple Terrace with housing, government offices and retail spaces. An interesting thing to note is that Temple Terrace is expected to have a 40% population gain within the next ten years, and the suburb has been trying to stop growth. Taking a radically different approach, Bell has developed a plan that can serve as an economic model to sustain growth and allow the suburb to enjoy prosperity. Plus, the model will help the region transition from a 4.5 people/acre site into a functioning 40 people/acre. The planned complex has attributes of a city and will be quite energy efficient as a way to provide an alternative solution to attract people. We loved how the architecture is designed for experiences to overlap as a person within his courtyard has a certain amount of privacy, yet can open the doors to view people in their offices lower in the complex or communicate with their other neighbors flanking their residence.
Next up was Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang who chose Cicero, Illinois – and industrial area that was hit super hard during the wake of the foreclosure crisis. Gang’s approach truly centered around the people of Cicero, and through a series of personal interviews, she could understand the needs of the people and attempt to address them. Gang introduced the project siting it as an “Arrival City” since most of Cicero is dominated by immigrants. The model has been designed to take the rural poor and propel them into the middle class. In this sense, Gang’s model not only included a great housing idea of the “Bungalow Shuffle” [an idea to break the housing unit apart into different spaces so a family can buy what they really need, be it 6 bedrooms, or 2 living rooms, etc.] but also provided an economic model. Due to the area’s high contamination levels, Gang has proposed to take off the roofs the old factories and plant foliage. Materials will be salvaged from the factories for other uses and new smaller scale opportunities for jobs will line the streets. She jokingly added that the proposal was completely illegal because Cicero codes do not allow live+work conditions; yet, Gang wants to remove these restrictions to totally revamp the concept of this town. Seeing the suburb as a mixture of spaces, including housing, work opportunities and green space, Cicero will become a vibrant economic model to support its growing population.
Then, we listened to Andrew Zago of Zago Architecture talk about his Rialto, California site. Similar to WORKac, Zago explained that while the project was site specific, there was also something generic about it to serve as future models for other cities. The team examined the single family home and studied hybrid variations in terms of construction and tectonics. Zago explained how a strong architecture intervention in a place such as Rialto was a positive thing and his proposal sought to draw public spaces to the inside of the housing complex and look at spaces developing between the buildings. The proposal includes a number of ecological features such as a change in the suburban transportation movement with ring roads becoming an ecological corridor or a “superhighway for nature.” The proposal also includes natural reservations for endangered species and a re-wilding process where species are raised and then reintroduced to the wild or placed back into their natural habitat.
We finished our afternoon with Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith of MOS and their site in The Oranges of New Jersey. When we first walked into the room, their amazing blue foam model immediately yelled at us that this would not be like any of the other presentations. As Meredith joked in the beginning, “All suburbs are not equal.” The team focused on The Oranges’ proximity to New York and how it should be a place that can handle the density of such a city. Rethinking the urban, enery and economic infrastructure, the team eliminated the “street” and replaced it with mixed use housing and offices. From their research, MOS had found the streets to be “underused” and thus, took the opportunity to develop a network of housing within this space to densify the region. With this mindset, thin lines of rowhouse work their way through the suburbs creating a porous ground floor that pedestrians can walk through, and upper floors that are mixed live-work conditions.
We were pleased with the variety of sites and excited by the proposals as they definitely got us thinking about our how we can break with our ingrained perceptions of an American suburb. Plus, walking around the open studios of PS1 and feeling the designers’ energy was a great way to spend the afternoon. We’ll keep you update on news of the exhibit and hope you have time to check in out in February.