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University| Graduate School of Design| Masters Thesis Reviews| May 16, 2011


+ Chris De Vries (SMArchS, MIT) + Daniel Kumnick (March II) + Iddo Ginat (MDesS) + Robert De Miguel (MAUD) + Jonathan Linkus (MAUD) + Christopher Roach (MAUD) + Jonathan Scelsa (MAUD)

The New Geographies Lab studies how architecture could impact the larger scale. Increasingly architects are being compelled to address and transform larger contexts and to give these contexts more legible and expressive form. New problems are being placed on the tables of designers (e.g.: infrastructure, urban systems, regional and rural questions). Problems that had been confined to the domains of engineering, ecology, or regional planning are now looking for articulation by design. This situation has opened up a range of technical and formal possibilities that had been out of reach for designers. The need to address these 'geographic' aspects has also encouraged designers to re-examine their tools and to develop means to link together attributes that had been understood to be either separate from each other or external to their disciplines. Yet engaging the geographic does not only mean a shift in scale. This has also come to affect the formal repertoire of architecture, even at a smaller scale, with more architects becoming interested in forms that reflect the geographic connectedness of architecture, be it to bridge between the very large and the very small (networks and frameworks) or to provide forms that embody geographic references (continuous surfaces, environmentally integrated buildings, mountains). Curiously, while research around these different attributes has intensified during the past decade, the parallel tracks of inquiry have remained disconnected. This makes the need to articulate the geographic paradigm all the more urgent. The role of synthesis that geography aspired to play between the physical, the economic, and the social is now being increasingly relegated to design. One of the main aims of the lab is to expose the workings of this latent paradigm and to articulate and guide them towards a more productive synthesis. Even though the term geographic is used primarily in a metaphorical way, designating a connection to the larger physical context, the paradigm does relate to the discipline of geography. Some clarification is necessary in this respect in order to benefit from the overlap while avoiding confusion. The history of geography is strongly linked to the history of discovery and colonization. The instruments for the discovery of territory were extended into its documentation and then, in turn, were extended into its appropriation and transformation. And yet the discipline has evolved to become more diverse and broad, to become institutionalized around geographic societies; to split into human and physical geography producing very different approaches and even subject matters; then to disintegrate (as in the case of Harvard) and migrate into other disciplines (sociology, public health, information systems); and then to be revived around central contemporary issues such as globalization. In this lab the geographic means at once the study of the relationship between the social and the physical at a larger territorial scale, a synthesis along the lines of high geography by design, and a new aesthetic posture. It may be an exaggeration to propose that something like a geographic attitude is guiding the different projects in this lab towards a coherent convergence, or that a geographic aesthetic dominates all their formal pursuits. However, the main drive to understand the implications of scalar and attitude shifts on architecture, and, vice versa, the impact of architecture on the larger scale, were strong motivations for this group to work together despite the differences in background, disciplines, sites, and approaches.


Europe's Liquid Commons: Towards a Public Territorial Infrastructure

This thesis examines the possibility of using intermodal logistics infrastructure on the RhineDanube waterway, as part of the Trans European Infrastructure Network, as a means to create a symbolic and operative commons between the East and West of Europe. A historical perspective on the physical transformations of Rhine is used to illustrate the seminal role they played in the formation of transnational diplomacy and economic collaborations in the West of Europe. The waterway because of its liquid characteristics is proposed as an operative transnational commons where general ideals and geographic particularities are negotiated through infrastructural transformations of the riparian landscape. A exemplary project is proposed in Novisad where a public sphere surrounding a variety of hydrologic programs exposes certain symbiotic and conflictual uses of water. The panoptical urban condition that is designed is meant to reveal and actuate a more transparent and public political struggle between the individual and collective through an irreducibly common commodity, namely water.


Liminiscape: Leveraging the Distant Ecologies of Infrastructure

If Los Angeles is the consummate example of a city made habitable through utility infrastructure, then it is the Los Angeles Aqueduct that best illustrates that agency. Such longdistance systems amplify and transpose far-flung ecosystems, enacting a direct dialogue between remote territories and the city. While the landscape around Lone Pine witnesses desertification and toxic dust storms, urban districts such as Sylmar face mudflow inundations, tectonically destabilized reservoirs, and the possible loss of the Sierras as a reliable freshwater source. Liminiscape proposes leveraging this reflexivity with infrastructural interventions that mediate between large-scale system and local environmental dynamics. In so doing, it prepares a new urban-rural gradient where development and its mitigation transcend geographic thresholds.


The Modulor Man: Measurements, Myth, and the Mediterranean

Le Corbusier claimed that The Modulor would stand as one of his most important legacies. A product of his wish to unify and replace both the Metric and the Imperial measurement systems, it was meant to inform global architectural production with a proportioning system that he believed was a rediscovery of natural and universal laws through eternal geometric axioms. Since publication, The Modulor was generally evaluated on its own terms of proportion, geometry and the autonomy of Architecture, and was eventually dismissed as an amateurish attempt to assign scientific value to mystical notions. However, this analysis of the Modulor fails to account for the much more complex relationship between genealogies of Le Corbusiers work and larger cultural trends nascent at the time. To understand the Modulors impact and historical importance requires a study of the project over its different iterations through the tumulus period spanning 1942 1955, conceived not within a vacuum, but in relation to a broader historical context. Three historical strands converge around the Modulor: the Romantic Vitalist concept of universal forms and their relationship to mathematical geometry; the development of Mechanistic ideals serving geo-political necessities of industrial standardization; and the supposition of a lost knowledge in the Mediterranean region a Mediterranean Mythogenesis as part of a search for a cosmopolitan epistemological alternative to the Northern European ethnocentric discourse. This positions The Modulor as a project of negotiation and mediation between essentialist and pragmatic strands around a spatial geography that of the Mediterranean. As such, The Modulor is suggestive of contemporary discourse that understands Modernity not just as a temporal progression towards universalization, but as an endeavor that is equally informed by spatial differences and complexity.


Edutopias : The Urban Geography of Education

This project begins with the proposition that schools are not an autonomous typology within the urban fabric, but rather are the expression of an educational system that, like utility or mobility systems, can be analyzed and understood in terms of how it organizes territory and shapes urbanism. This relationship between city and school was codified most clearly in Clarence Perrys concept of the neighborhood unit, and was subsequently deployed as the basic unit of urbanism in modernist city planning of CIAM and its offspring. However the neatly ordered and nested scales of the neighborhood unit have given way to the realities of the heterogeneous and multi-centered modern city, the syntax that it generates between the school and other urban elements (the dwelling, town hall, park, roads, etc.) remains relevant to the problems of scale and interconnectedness that face contemporary cities. Moreover, equally as important as this syntax is the Utopian desire that underlies the idea of the neighborhood unit and, I would argue, any school system. This is to say that embodied within any model of education is an alternative vision for the ordering of society, and because of the close association of citizenship to urbanity, this is also an alternative proposal for ordering the urban environment. My project is therefore to recover the instrumentality of the concept of the neighborhood unit, the diagrammatic association it makes between school and urbanism, while emptying it of the ideological baggage that limits its applicability to the modern city. This is ultimately a search for a new model for understanding and projecting an urban form against the backdrop of the increasing instability and illegibility of the contemporary city. This search for new models begins in Rio de Janeiro, where the design of an educational infrastructure' can be used to overcome its particularly fragmented urban condition and by proposing an alternative physical and social order.


Refiguring Istanbul
This design thesis explores how the multi-layered and fragmented nature of the contemporary city can become a formal and perceptual problem for architecture through the lens of Istanbul, the former capital of Turkey. At a key intersection of the new and old cities of Istanbul, the collection of sites, objects, and infrastructural layers that exist in Taksim Square are brought together through a market program and a series of formal rearticulations which seek to reconnect the site and the city. Thus the idea of the sociability of infrastructure, as once represented by Istanbuls fountains and squares in the eighteenth century, as well as more broadly the relationship between the individual and the collective, is central to the thesis. The design seeks a position which avoids the tendency towards the seamless formal integration of much of contemporary architecture as well as the collage of objects given to us by postmodernism by employing strategies for bringing figures into relationships which maintain both their discrete nature while maintaining a certain continuity. Such strategies share an affinity with the attentions of abstract art, including the sharing of contours and the ambiguity between figure and ground, and are in each case concerned with highlighting an awareness of where one is in relation to somewhere elseperception as the connection between the immediate and larger contexts of architecture.


Urban Corridors in Londons Metropolitan Region

The thesis focuses on the configuration of a new regional metropolitan model called an urban corridor. By spatially defining a corridor at a metropolitan level I seek to make sense of the linkages and interdependencies between people and space as well as to understand the multiplicity and multifunctional systems and programs that operate at a regional level. In order to do this, I base my study on the existing London-Stansted-Cambridge-Peterborough Corridor. I use this corridor as a framework to expand on a theoretical proposal about organizational model of the regional metropolis. In order to define this new urban corridor model I apply a set of 6 variables. These are: land use, specialisms, history, infrastructure, socio-economic, and governance. The model of urban corridor proposed considers the processes that emerge from post-fordist economy, decentralization and globalization by trying to mitigate their negative effects through a metropolitan regional model that creates greater redistribution and equity.


Morphing Manhattanism
Manhattanism has run its course in the history of urbanism; the eponymous city within which it was founded is ready to breed a new paradigm. This new "Morphed Manhattanism" promotes an inter-regionalism whereas Manhattanism promoted isolationism. It subverts the center-periphery relationship established in that old order in light of a dispersed model. As Manhattanism reaches its grave so too does its verticalized architecture; new archetypes are spawned on a regional order based in infrastructural connectivity and large scale agendas. The transfiguration of the city pulls the worlds from the captivity of the grid and creates a new understanding of worldliness in architecture, bridging between continental divide while simultaneously maintaining the old interiority. The island is broken its shores have been breached.