Dwelling Happens: A Study of Urban Living in the 21st Century


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Virginia Tech


It is the responsibility of the discipline of architecture to enhance and compliment the human act of dwelling. One must engage the sun, moon and the changing seasons, provide spatial efficiency to lifestyle, purpose, and need, and harmoniously embed the contextually harmonious mechanics required to aid in modern dwelling.

There are three underlying axes in this thesis in an effort to provide a perspective to reflect upon the entire body of work from the precedent studies, the process work and the final presentation. First, are the Hiedeggerian thoughts pertaining to the human act of dwelling. He states "We do not dwell because we have built, but we build and have built because we dwell that is, because we as dwellers." Simply, architects build to satisfy a specific need of a particular person, family, organization or society. We do not build arbitrarily but require a need to build or change the built environment to satisfy a perpetually evolving act of dwelling. Buildings protect, preserve and cherish dwelling and the evolution of dwelling facilitates the need to build. Architecture responds to this need. Second is the city as the built canvas of society. The perpetual building, rebuilding, unbuilding and modifications illustrate and identify the grain and subtle contextual geometries of city. Lastly is the role of technology in architecture. Sustainable technology, engineered building materials, digital communication and computer controlled systems all aid in making the act of living easier but are not the reason for life itself. Therefore, technology cannot be the concept of an architectural project but only assist the idea.

The Site: Employing the idea of working with the grain of the city, I chose to begin examining one city block on the island of Manhattan in New York City. Understanding what has been built, unbuilt, rebuilt and modified on this site throughout history enabled me to understand the grain and internal geometries of it; allowing my interpretation of the history of the site to direct my design. The site is the triangular block bordered by Edgecombe Avenue, Bradhurst Avenue and 145th street in Harlem. Both Edgecombe Avenue and Bradhurst Avenue are secondary streets mainly occupied with 3 â 6 story apartment houses and single-family row houses. 145th Street is one of the large commercial boulevards of the area. The natural and social geography of the site was my initial attraction. It is one of only a few areas where two drastically different neighborhoods, known to the locals as the hilltop and the flats, connect. These neighborhoods are separated by a series of linear parks that were set-aside during the initial planning of the city because they were considered unbuildable land. They are literally shear rock cliffs with elevation changes of twenty-five feet to over sixty feet. The separation provided by the natural geography greatly contributed to the social separation between the two neighborhoods. This site is situated on one of four areas where the city fabric spans the separation and links "the hilltop" with "the flats".

The Program: The project I chose to pursue is a mixed-use urban infill project with four distinct building programs executed with one architectural expression. The programs are two types of urban housing, office/work/retail space, civic/public space, all aligning with the information-driven society and the extension of an urban park interlacing itself with the city fabric and reconnecting the fractured linear parks.

The Thesis: By using the urban context and a conglomerate program, my goal is to realize the architectural possibilities while reflecting on the human act of dwelling. Furthermore, I hope to gain insight and direction for my own career as an architect on how to engage an existing urban context. The method allows the built history to remain and work within the existing context to further adapt and modify the urban fabric.

The Design: I began my design with a typology study. Understanding the existing site axes and geometries, solid verses void, hierarchy of buildings, solar orientation, building types and the construction method used in their making. Using the program I established and the site studies, I began laying out in plan, section and elevation the various architectural elements. The goal is to provide architectural generosity in space, volume and natural light. This was a three dimensional applied program to the site. Through my precedent study, I interpreted forms in nature and especially the complexity and elegance of the human body. My interpretation of the structure of the human spine, shoulder and arm and the interplay of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones aided in the development of the structural form of my buildings. Repeating the forms and structural idea generated from my interpretations, I used the variation in the scale and program of the buildings to provide variation within a repetitious design. This approach enables the complex of building types and sizes to be part of one architectural expression.



Dwelling, urban in-fill