Revealing the Grid

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Virginia Tech


Ruins have always fascinated me. These eerie, abandoned, man made buildings, hold you in awe. Buildings no longer in use, tell their story through whatever remains. What does one do with the ruins? Preserve, destroy or reinterpret? How do you build with ruins? How much do you destroy? How much do you retain? How do you build anew?

One such ruin is that of McMillan Sand Filtration Plant in Washington DC. A completely utilitarian structure, with a huge grid of columns covered with a roof spread over 25 acres of land. What appears from the eye level as a 25 acre lawn with a grid of manholes, interspersed with two rows of gigantic concrete towers, is actually a water purification plant that used a slow sand filtration process (purifying water by passing it through sand and gravel) to supply potable drinking water.

The grids (of columns and manholes) are the most striking features. When the manhole covers are opened, they cast a pattern of light on the floor. The manhole grid itself can be interpreted as a grid of skylights.

Furthermore, there are various extents of deterioration this purification plant has undergone, due to which the grids are presented in a variety of ways:

As a grid of columns with the roof of manholes (structure intact); As a grid of columns without the roof (columns not strong enough to hold the roof); As a collapsed structure/ mass of earth (complete state of deterioration).

Though water was the essence, the very reason why this plant was in existence, today this piece of land lies parched and thirsty.

Much was happening on this seemingly calm piece of land. I wanted to bring out its essence, reveal its grids, the unending array of columns, the play of light and shade they caused and most importantly, I wanted to bring water back to where it belonged. This thesis also explores the possibility of building on/with the 'old' in a strong existing context by introducing a shift/rotation in the grid and with the help of material and texture.



rotation, subterranean, texture, Water, Light, columns, grid, manholes, concrete, industrial, ruins, shift