Recasting the Outcasts

At a time when it is more essential than ever to conserve resources and prevent carbon pollution, we find that buildings are frequently discarded rather than being reinvented to serve contemporary life. Indeed, today the life span of buildings in North America is often fewer than fifty years. In many cases, the reason for their demolition has less to do with a lack of architectural quality than it does with real estate speculation that aims to expand their sites’ financial value.

One group of architectural outcasts that are particularly vulnerable to being erased and replaced—and their embodied carbon thereby released—are the Brutalist structures of the 1960s and ’70s. How might we revitalize this building stock, which despite its material solidity, is being treated as throw-away architecture? What are the characteristics, real and perceived, that make these buildings seem like waste products—reviled both by their disenchanted owners and the public? We will explore how these buildings might convert their specific “waste-time” into a benefit, looking to our culture’s definition of waste and its unique ability, as Will Viney states, “to communicate across thresholds of time.”

Employing a palimpsestic approach, students will be asked to bring contemporary technologies, materials, forms, and tools to respond to this project with the challenge of recasting this specific architecture toward a viable, extended future. The semester will be divided into two parts. Working in pairs, students will first study, analyze, and critique the existing architecture, looking for physical and aesthetic opportunities for intervention. They will then develop design solutions for urban densification that reinvent, reuse, add to, and reposition these buildings. Adaptation scenarios will include supplementing the existing buildings’ commercial and institutional uses with new programs such as residential.

Because of the specific nature of the physicality of the building type being explored, the studio is open only to architecture students. Evaluation will be based on attendance, participation, and quality of design productiion.