Architecture or the City

Today, it would be reasonable to argue that the architecture of urban morphology is more visibly autonomous than at any time since the advent of modernity. Contemporary housing and multi-use developments are either architectural archipelagos or islands, each composed of differently shaped, styled and scaled buildings.

This profusion of difference is not the manifestation of a radical project of architectural autonomy as, for example, theorized by Manfredo Tafuri in his analysis of Piranesi’s Campo Marzio. The renowned ichnographic project illustrates an urban district that is at once unified by a single language derived from Roman ruins and composed as a conflict of extremes between discrete, exceedingly monumental complexes and buildings.

Tafuri’s hypothesis is a prescient, allegorical narrative of the historical process of disenchantment that ensued from the multiplication of sacred icons repurposed again and again for secular functions, from the house to the bank and ultimately to the gas station. The city evoked by Camp Marzio is composed only of a monstrous or sublime collection of colossal symbols of power vying for supremacy and ultimately canceling one another out.

Aldo Rossi, a contemporary of Tafuri’s, characterized the city as transhistorical and analogical. His non-narrative drawings, akin to still lifes, depict everyday objects alongside numerous types of building fragments, ruinous or unfinished. If analogy promises to synthesize disparate, unrelated and incommensurately scaled objects, architecture and urban morphology are destined to be manifest only in fragments. Any dream of narrativity or coherence is consciously irretrievable.

The projects of the studio will originate in one or a hybrid of these two theorizations of wholes and fragments with the aim to transformatively distill or resist the archipelagic propensity of architecture. Students will either design large buildings that define a synecdoche – i.e., a “city within a building” – or design prototypical housing units and sets/systems thereof that aggregate to produce a legible, discrete fragment of urban morphology derived from singular or hybrid precedents.

The studio will invest considerable time exploring the anticipated experience of units and their arrangements with emphasis on contemporary modes of living as well as the multivalent interrelationships of the units with the building, street, block, and urban morphology.    

Though the primary intention of the studio project is theoretical, it will be embodied by economically viable and sustainable proposals for a 110 acre site in Alameda, CA, the best remaining development opportunity along the bay’s eastern waterfront.

Students working in pairs will develop urban designs for between 2.8 and 5.6 million ft2 of multi-use. Concurrently, students will work individually on concepts for housing. The urban and architectural will thus be theorized and composed simultaneously. The final individual projects will vary in scope depending on each student’s theoretical/architectural interests.

The studio will work in tandem with The Development Project, GSD’s Master in Real Estate course in which students will establish constraints for the projects of this studio. Together, we will travel to the San Francisco Bay area in mid-February.