GSD Course Bulletin - Fall 2012

This term's information was last refreshed on 12 MAY 2015 14:54:06.

Courses taught by Nathalie de Vries

01302: Transforming Melnea Cass Boulevard: Architecture, Transport and Regeneration in Central Boston (STU 0130200)

Option Studio - 8 credits - Limited enrollment
This course has an IRREGULAR meeting schedule. Please see full course description.
Tuesday Wednesday 2:00 - 6:00  

Nathalie de Vries

Course Description

People have growing awareness about how they want to organise the environments in which they live, work and trade. Users and owners of houses and commercial buildings are nowadays evolving from anonymous persons or target groups with predictive behavior into serious partners in all stages of the development and construction of projects. This also includes a growing awareness of what is high quality in architecture. But how can architects integrate these expectations into their designs and make sure this pluralism of ideas can be used in a fruitful way? How can they make sure buildings and urban designs that are created in this process will also benefit the community as a whole? How can this attention for the more individualistic needs of users be combined with the equally strong collective need for healthier and more equal living conditions in cities? Can architects design tools and processes for living environments in constant change, provoking, inviting, interacting, comfortable, intriguing cities? Can these designs be made in such a way that they are financially and commercially viable and at the same time culturally and socially ambitious?
Architecture with an Attitude:
In this studio, we want to produce intelligent architecture that includes users in its design. Students will be invited to investigate different scenarios and explore their own position on this topic. There are many ways to approach this. Strongly defined architecture can be used to catalyze the development of neighborhoods and cities and inspire active involvement of the community and future users. Adaptive and changeable design solutions like framework or casco designs can present flexible alternatives with a more open-ended appearance. On a larger scale of thinking, structuralist architecture or interactive design programs can help to develop strategies for interaction between architecture, developers and users.
The site for this project will be Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston. The Melnea Cass corridor is targeted to become an urban civic anchor for the Roxbury neighborhood. It poses an interesting case study of urban history and transportation planning in Boston. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Roxbury was an active African American neighborhood slated to be the home of an eight-lane elevated highway. Many areas were cleared for the highway construction. After community activism killed the project to save the neighborhood, a multi-lane grounded boulevard was constructed instead and named after a local community activist who stopped the highway project, Melnea Cass. The resulting wide boulevard, lined with vacant plots, parking lots, and low-density programming became a physical and psychological barrier disconnecting Roxbury from downtown Boston. Roxbury has never recovered to its original vibrancy before highway construction began.
That perceived divide was made even deeper when the City moved the Rapid Transit trains travelling down Washington Street to Dudley Station to the Amtrak train tracks in the eastern part of the City in order to improve service reliability. Consequently, by removing this train line, the Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan area became a 10-mile area in Central Boston without access to public train transport. As a result, Roxbury is located between several already gentrifying areas, but is lacking the strong identities and easy access to downtown on public transport that helped the other parts of Boston redevelop. But the tide will turn: The Boston Transportation Department is heavily focusing on public bus transport initiatives and more pedestrian friendly infrastructure there. The recent MBTA operating budget deficit of $185 million does not allow the rapid-train transit expansion into this area—a key element that has spurred redevelopment in other parts of the city. Furthermore, through initiatives like the Complete Streets program, Urban Ring, South Harbor trail, and procurement of Parcels 9 & 10, the Boston Transit Authority believes there is a huge potential for regeneration along Melnea Cass Boulevard. However, there are many projects, but not yet a coherent vision for the larger scale that unifies these projects.
The sites for the architectural designs will be all along Melnea Cass Boulevard and in relationship with the development of Central Boston. The potential for transit initiatives to promote a vibrant urban condition along Melnea Cass will be used to create a mixed-use program. The search for a personal vision and architectural language on what is essential in architecture will be tested in an area that is in desperate need of redesign. Information from Melnea Cass Boulevard’s planning strategy, community meetings, and recent RFQ’s to develop parcels 9 and 10 at the intersection of Washington Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard will be used to create a mixed-use program. What aspects of the project need a personal approach, where is need for collective initiatives? How to deal with the car-culture? Where is DIY interesting and when does it interfere with the public interest? What should be made specific in user-friendly architecture and what not? How can we create a vision on the complete regeneration of the area, rather than create a sum of parts?
Since the project is ‘around the corner’ frequent site visits are possible. Local stakeholders will be invited to provide information and give reviews. The studio will also study other examples of user participation/user friendly/user neutral architecture and of public infrastructure projects. Research will be done in teams. Each team will study the implementation of one of the scenarios (User perspective, Social perspective, or Commercial perspective) for the future development of the Melnea Cass Boulevard site. After the initial team scenario studies, students will develop individual strategies and infills and feasibility plan within their group&r

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