252 Columns: The Development of an Archetypal Form


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Virginia Tech


A good urban space must fulfill the promises of complexity and variety. This thesis investigates how to define an urban plaza in terms of universal elements employed to achieve that complexity. An alternating grid, a, b, a, composed of squares of five and ten feet provides an order for all the elements on the site. Each element is generated and organized from this grid. The dominant elements are thirty-foot tall concrete columns. These columns and their subsequent structural armature define the structure of buildings and an underground parking structure. The columns form a continuum which ties together every aspect of the thesis. Visually, they are present everywhere in the plaza and define very specific views of the plaza and the surrounding city. Together with an intricate mosaic floor pattern created from overlapping ellipses, also based on the grid, the massive columns and fine-grained floor define the extremes of the plaza's scale.

The development of a number of potential elements always failed when put together to form a cohesive idea of a contained plaza. A clear order was necessary to bring together different elements into a cohesive whole. This led to the definition of a plaza as a sensibly apparent and rationally knowable outdoor public building contained within a city or town.

For an area which previously lacked any structural cohesion, the ordered plaza now defines a strong structural element within the city. The grid and columns define space but do not force a single usage. They define how the plaza is used as it weathers the continual change of an urban environment.

The plaza does not exist as an independent element within the city. The many framed views offered by the columns create new perspectives of the surrounding city. The universal elements, the columns, reference the site specifically in their scale and proportion. Applicable in a wide range of projects, the grid of columns in this project orders a pedestrian environment connecting downtown and a baseball stadium. Three buildings which derive directly from the grid create additional small openings to the city beyond. While focusing toward the center, the buildings define a permeable edge which allows interaction.



plaza, urban renewal, columns, public plaza, John Shorb, York PA, piazza