North Adams, MA: A City on Verge

Prerequisites:Students will be expected to possess a high degree of design interest and capability. It is anticipated that the studio will call upon the following interests and will include: Urban design and planning at the master plan scale Architectural design, commercial and residential, at the scale of an individual project Landscape architecture / Landscape urbanism designCourse Description:This semester\’s North Adams studio will focus on how designers and planners can bring substantial talents to bear on cities attempting to reinvent themselves. The case at hand is North Adams, Massachusetts. The development of the new public/private Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) has had an enormous economic impact on North Adams and all of North Berkshire County but it is now time for a second wave of development to continue this impressive record of economic revitalization. The political will is present in North Adams. Mayor John Barrett III, the longest – serving mayor in the Commonwealth and his administration, have been a major force in the rebirth of this struggling Western Massachusetts industrial town. In the past hundred years, North Adams has gone from prosperity to near ruin and back to a growing prosperity again. Unlike any of time in its history, North Adams is now a part of the Berkshire Mountains cultural scene that includes Tanglewood (the Summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival, the Williamstown Theater, the Clark Art Institute, and the Norman Rockwell Museum among others. The developing cultural and restaurant district, anchored by MASS MoCA, attracts thousands of visitors each week from May through November. A central question for this studio is how North Adams might continue to grow by attracting new residents who will contribute to the local economy as well as attracting visitors on a year-round basis. Mayor John Barrett III and Joseph Thompson, the Director of MASS MoCA will be involved in our studio and will participate in the mid-semester and final reviews. My Bruner/Cott partner, Simeon Bruner who was principal-in-charge of our design for MASS MoCA will also participate in reviews. The Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence will help sponsor a symposium in North Adams that will address urban revitalization through the arts.Pedagogic Objectives:The shifting economic prosperity of cities like North Adams is, more than was the case previously, a fact of life in this new century. Inventive ways to address the myriad issues related to economic growth and decline represent new opportunities for the design community. This studio will allow us to \”think outside the box\” by applying our distinctive spatial design creativities to address what is typically seen as a political problem usually yielding banal results. The huge success of MASS MoCA, conceived at first by the Williams College arts community, is proof of the potency of just such an approach.Urban Design: North Adams was bifurcated by the construction of Route 2. A spatial void exists at the core of the city instead of a vibrant center. MASS MoCA provides a center of activity as does Main Street, one block off of the Route 2 thoroughfare. It is possible to drive though North Adams and never know of the existence of Main Street. A central question is how can we deploy our talents as urban designers in a way that can suggest creative and economical solutions to this problem?Architectural Design: The shortage of housing in North Adams, particularly affordable housing, contributes to the current situation. The creation of housing has been proven to be an effective engine in jumpstarting community economic revitalization. What form should such housing take in North Adams? Live work artists housing is a possibility and can be newly designed or planned in existing bu