Landscaping Urbanisms / Urbanizing Landscapes

Manhattan is experiencing an unbridled period of urban redevelopment. Across the island, neighborhoods are being subjected to radical reinvention. The city\’s post-war collective housing projects are one of the few exceptions to this trend. Cut off from the urban grid and market forces, they have remained virtually static over the past fifty years. The social and typological experiments that were initiated by their construction have not been perpetuated, their landscapes are at best underutilized and at worst neglected.And yet, for an urban environment as rich in its variety as New York City, the public spaces of collective housing remain extremely provocative. The large open spaces of Baruch, Wald and Jacob Riis housing, for example, are neither entirely public nor private, they function for residents simultaneously as forecourt and backyard, and are used by New York City Housing Authority for public services, recreation and maintenance operations. As such they are \”programmatically polyvalent.\” At the same time the landscapes of Baruch, Wald and Jacob Riis housing (managed primarily by the New York City Housing Authority) are part of a series of isolated and uni-functional urban bands separating the rest of the City fabric from the East River.The studio will explore the critical and contingent nature of urban public space through these unusual landscapes. Our site, 1 mile long by nearly 400 yards wide is bound to the south by the Williamsburg Bridge and to the north by the ConEd power plant at 13th Street. To the east it is fused to the East River and to the west to Avenue D. It includes the public housing parcels of Wald, Baruch and Jacob Riis, the FDR Drive and the East River Park. With the intent to stitch into the publicly accessible waterfront landscape wrapping much of New York City the site has the potential to expand southward to include the Corlear\’s Hook Housing, Corlear\’s Park and the maritime piers and northward to stretch beyond the pinched waterfront path at the ConEd fueling station.Site HistoryBefore being farmed and used as a trade link to Europe and the West Indies by Dutch colonists, the shores of the East River were used for centuries by the Lenape Native American tribe for fishing and hunting. Waterfront activities intensified in the 18th century as the ship building industry grew, but by the end of the 19th century, the shipyards had relocated. Talks about constructing leisure facilities along this edge began in 1895. By then, European immigrants were living in tightly built tenements west of the piers.The Manhattan Loop, conceived of in the 20\’s, reached the East Side in the late 30\’s and the creation of the East River Drive (later renamed FDR Drive) was used to garner much needed open-spaces for residents of the tenements on the Lower East Side. Moses fought hard to push the East River Drive inland to acquire enough land for more public open space. Feeling the results of his influence insufficient, he concluded that to build a park large enough for the Lower East Side he would cantilever 10 feet beyond the existing shoreline along 20 city blocks. In 1939, after the construction of this concrete platform, the East River Park was opened. The park boasted a program emphasizing active recreation; game and sport courts and fields, wading pool/skating rink, baseball diamonds and a running track.These leisure and transit infrastructures developed to serve the densely populated Lower East Side ultimately encouraged the Slum Clearance Plans of the 40\’s and 50\’s. These plans destroyed the tenement fabric, and displaced a large population. To replace the tenements, large-scale, multistory housing towers scattered over consolidated city blocks were proposed. This site planning strategy reduced the building site coverage from 90% to as little as 14% (Baruch Houses), thus yielding a gain of nearly 10 times the normally accessible