All posts by Christopher A Scalzo

Revitalizing Existing Infrastructures- The Critique of Rebecca Newburg

Respecting an urban proposition she suggests in her related works and theories, Becca has explored a redesign of existing infrastructure rather than a demolition and new construction. “There is no need for new buildings,” you might catch her saying. With the rise of a collective eco-conscious, and the increasingly evident necessity for sustainable thinking, Becca’s ecological strategy is more “a requirement than a choice.”

What was the quintessence of an under-cared industrial wasteland, the Greenpoint Bus Wash has been transformed into a multi-use, community oriented space, capable of becoming a node for a developing community, over an urban residue on a far street-side.

Further integration with the surrounding community was a forefront intention of the new design, with a redesign of the existing park space, whose circulation and pathways carry through the design of the structure to create an interwoven continuity of spaces. The jointure of several of the park paths, just to the east of the building’s centroid, creates a dramatic point of public access and becomes an anchor for the organization of public spaces. Lobby and other public-oriented space are compartmentalized about the dramatic intersection of pathways. Flanked to either side, the monitor museum and multi-use public space, ideally seen as a farmer’s market, stretch out toward the waterfront, while the Apparatus bay hurdles the streetscape. Thus, the poetry of the East River scenery complements the poetry of community and history, while the first responders are nudged against the community street-system, becoming most-accessible to its extents in the event of emergency.

What was taken into reconsideration by the critique was the arrangement of a second storey, private spaces for the live-in firefighters, whose personal quarters were arrayed into a seemingly efficient system of “locker spaces” at the interior of the building’s footprint, but could not receive adequate light, nor had any relationship with the outside. They were quickly called out to be psychologically uncomfortable. A suggestion and future ambition would be to relocate such rooms along the structure’s edge, the opposite condition of the existing central, interior concentration.

Structure was certainly a hallmark of the proposal, with additive trusses and pillars lining the exterior of the old building, creating both the aesthetics of an industrial colonnade and yet an impression of weightlessness. The roof and almost all structure would become dependent on suspension from a line of trusses, rendering all interior structure much more simplified. The opportunity allowed Becca to redesign more interesting roof structures, and act more independently of the pre-existing column grid, which in this iteration becomes more of a tool of spatial definition than of structural essentiality. The new structural system, alone, produced one of the most identifiable design schemes among the entirety of the studio.

So if interior conditions are new, and the structural system is new, what of the old structure is maintained in the new design? The shell? Or has the shell become more a symbolic element with minimized bearing on the totality of the new design? This idea, through different aspects and considerations was the forefront of the critique’s comments and concerns throughout the remainder of the session. Becca’s representations were more than adequate in explaining spatial configuration and design strategy, however, was not indicative of relationship between ‘old-and-new’ that seemed to be such an important aspect of the entire project. Critique Lisa Iulo recommended a more diagrammatic approach to plans and sections that clearly identified pre-existing structure from new structure, through different means of poche and hatching, better allowing for the dialogue to be displayed. Becca’s collages and graphic representations of her design’s aesthetic potential were also suggested to be reworked to better emphasize the dichotomy she has explored.

Through design, this dichotomy was suggested to receive better emphasis by rethinking the surrounding conditions, such as the streetscape, understood to be the intermediary between old and the new, hosting structures of all ages. Understanding how to better shape and confront the streetscape by better crafting its facades might be an opportunity to take advantage of.

Despite all the evident potential, and what seemed to be understood by the critiques as an attempt to respect and reuse existing conditions, the strongest comment in the entire critique was that Becca’s design approach was simply too modest. “It could be more assertive,” asserted Lisa Iulo. Without giving much explanation, the audience was left to mostly interpret and define modesty for themselves. Perhaps the modesty came from the organization of spaces? There was certainly a minimalistic approach in allocating compartmentalized spaces, with what seemed to me an evident interest in maximizing, the open, public spaces. Perhaps the formal relationship of such interior spaces were too literal, too orthogonal to the master shape of the pre-existing structure.

It certainly should have not been a critique on the building’s footprint, as such would be necessary to uphold the attention of adaptive reuse. Perhaps Lisa foresaw a potential addition, or a contrasting element for juxtaposition that would be capable of erecting this conversation of aesthetic duality, though it was evident such would not be Becca’s intention, as clearly she intends to make the most out of the existing footprint, only executing a slight modification to regularize one of the footprint’s corners that featured a skewed and formally awkward corner. In regularizing the shape, there is a clear intention of de-emphasis, and a clear emphasis on the interior reorganization. Despite the evidence, perhaps the idea was misunderstood by the critique. Even through the regularity of the floor plan, responsive to the existing condition, the sections and new structure certainly offered aesthetic interest, certainly captivating enough to passer-byers on the street. No neighboring building featured a colonnade of trusses and piers that so evidently helped to define interior space, and no other neighboring structure could feature such openness and relationship with the green environment around.

The best way for Becca to move forward, and perhaps ‘radicalize’ her proposal’ would be in needed reorganization of the second floor, thinking of how to welcome light and maximize the efficiency and psychological ease of such spaces, all working under a condition of structural independence she granted herself with her monumental truss system.

The BrooklynCB1 Building

Originally ambitious to develop a fire stations’ efficiency while integrating community-based program, the Brooklyn Community Board One Building has developed into a small high-rise full of integrated program, based upon an organizational logic particular to the fire station.

Integrating a fire station, community center, and housing, the Brooklyn CB1 building inspires to become a model for a new typology: a community-civic hybrid. Why shouldn’t fire stations, police stations and civil offices be integrated with community-accessible programs?

Located at the eastern, waterfront, crux of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods, which comprise Brooklyn’s first community board, passer-byers will undoubtedly notice the 20 foot tall fire engine bay facing the street, its front and back face open, allowing a peer through and a vista of the Manhattan skyline on the other side. The engine bay, dotted with storage units and hugged by elevators and fire stairs to the floors above, is the visible totality of the first floor. All other program is lifted above in a steel-frame construction. Thus, to the passer-byer, the fire station becomes symbolic, a heralded element to the community, a foundation for stability and structure.

Upon entering the small elevator lobby, only separated from the intense engine bay by glass, the community member proceeds up the elevator, past the level of firemen’s quarters, and enters the community lobby. The community member passes chairs and tables with neighbors speaking politics, ignorant to the Manhattan-view behind them. He travels around the bathrooms, cladded in brick, and notices the continuity of the ground-level’s organization on the upper floors: spaces, private and public, shaped and organized as extrusions of truck lanes and intermediate spaces. The organization of the highly functional apparatus bay is the organizational logic for the programs above. A crisis center which doubles as a community engagement space is discussing the monthly community meeting, which will be held later that day at the community board offices level, on the floor below.

A clerk for the community board proceeds straight to the third floor to her cubicle on the floor of extended office space, curtain walls on either side, she finds herself on the crux of industrialized Brooklyn and commercialized Manhattan before sitting down at her desk. Members of the community board, as well as their local representative on the city council rush by, frantically stressed over a city funding issue she too passively observes to receive the full context. She emails her friend some of the building’s information, as she and her family are interested in moving out of East Williamsburg, closer to the waterfront. They find some of the apartments reasonably affordable for its location, a decent size for a family of four, but are skeptical of some the living conditions, kitchens, laundry and lounge spaces taken out of individual apartments and organized in collective spaces. They learn they’ll be living next to a few artists, who are renting out the studio apartments adjacent, and feel that exposure might be good for the kids.

Once they move in they also find that the art spaces a few floors below have child-oriented programs, and soon the two young children find themselves in a weekly after school art class, doing something that will shape their future, and something inspired by the culture of the community around them. The father doesn’t care as much for the art, instead prefers to work out at the gym with firefighters and others from the community. He’s happy that his kids have a nice view from their 8th floor apartment, activities to do down below, and happy his truck-loving five year old son gets his daily entertainment by seeing the fire trucks roll easily in and out on the street.

Building for Life: Biophilic Design

Stephen R. Kellert is a professor emeritus of social ecology and a senior research scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and is decorated with more honors and awards than would ever be rational. His work concerns the relation between humans and natural processes and features, more specifically how this relationship applies to design and development. His book, Building for Life, examines our society’s need for sustainable design in order to achieve a higher quality of life. He champions the ecological and cultural movement in biophilic design, design that appeals to the innate human affinity for natural processes and features.

By eliciting positive, valued experiences of nature within our built environment, we can repair the relationship between nature and ourselves, so that we might easier recognize our dependence on nature, and ultimately become more responsible in our treatment of it. Sustainability aside, biophilia is very much cultural, and is envisions a society of individuals more conscious of their surroundings, first through their natural environment, but also indirectly through their social environment . The Promenade Plantée, or the Bastille Viaduct, in Paris is cited as an effective example as it has  successfully “[restoring] contact with nature in an urban context”. He asserts that the project has revitalized the area socially and economically, while returning the city dweller to a more common interaction with nature. At the same time, Kellert is fast to critique the Bastille Viaduct’s failure to address “low environmental impact or ecological landscape design” and entertains the idea that the project may not be a great example. He similarly discusses the work of Frank Lloyd Wright whose prairie houses, most notably with Fallingwater, have demonstrated biophilic principles in establishing a sentimental harmony of human within nature. Yet, due to the cost, heavy use of materials, and limited energy efficiency, Kellert cannot quite call Frank Lloyd Wright the ideal ‘Biophile.’

Three degrees of our human affinity to nature can be considered when applying biophilia to a design: direct, indirect and symbolic. The direct is the hardest, as the built environment can only frame, and never be a direct experience with nature. Full nature does not anticipate the implantation of built works. A greenhouse or courtyard can frame a garden, a direct experience of nature, but the structure around it could simply not be. The indirect experience involves the existence of nature that is dependent on the maintenance and support of human efforts. A fern in a vase, or the fishtank at your dentists’ office are examples of natural environments confined and constrained where their vitality is dependent on third support. Lastly, the symbolic experience of nature, which is the most obvious within art, and has been pursued for as long as architecture has been practiced. Arabic floral patterns, Gothic sculptural details and rose windows, to the efforts of Frank Lloyd Wright to integrate structure into nature, all relate directly to understanding nature through abstraction, through symbol.

Kellert makes one significant assumption that forms the basis of his whole argument, that humanity has a natural tendency to revere what is resemblant of nature. Seemingly sensible in theory, the assumption appears to be false, as aesthetic tastes do exist that appreciate the quality of orthogonality and the hand-prints of man.

Biophilia Presentation.


The People as Genius Loci: Counter-Gentrification tactics after the storm

New Orleans copy
The location of Tulane City Center within the Oretha Castle Halley neighborhood, as well a highlight of the ninth ward.

The streetcar clunks and thonks while you ride it down Canal Street. Theaters dazzling in lights, an avenue lined in palm trees, the smooth sound of Jazz to one side, and the immense shrieks of nightlife to the other, it’s easy to become enamored by the legacy that is New Orleans. However, it is certainly legacy. Upon the tourist’s attempt to define for himself, the New Orleans of today, he struggles.

A city weakened by population decline, economic struggle and unimaginably worsened by natural disaster, the New Orleans of today remains a mission to define.

Barely emerging from a dark history of segregation, the once cultural center of the South began to face an array of social complications from economic disparity, to socially stratified neighborhoods, to natural disaster, and neighborhoods stripped of its people and life, many of which have not returned.

Existing redevelopment efforts are conscious to maintain the cultural integrity of New Orleans’ communities and combat the social challenges of eviction and migration that come with gentrification.

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is a community-based reconstruction effort to rebuild the devastated neighborhoods of post-Katrina New Orleans, notably the lower 9th ward.

Gentrification. A word that has become increasingly common in conversations of architecture and urban sociology, gentrification, from a superficial perspective, is the revitalization of a neighborhood, economically decayed and plagued with social problems, into an environment more culturally vibrant and economically structured. From an inside perspective, by those existing in the communities subject to the prominent urban phenomenon, gentrification is a pave-over of their existing communities with new elements socio-economically out-of-reach. Rather than diffusion of a new energy into pre-existing communities, gentrification more over, by consequence of our economic system, forces the pre-existing community to relocate, as their economic standards become overpowered by a wealthier standard of living, they cannot maintain financial stability, and are forced to relocate to more affordable communities.

From one perspective, gentrification brings a community back to life. From another, gentrification destroys communities. One’s perspective is largely relevant to their socio-economic, and by that, racial upbringings and contexts. Middle and upper class communities take inspiration from the revival of neighborhoods they were raised to fear. Lower class communities, largely minorities, immigrant communities, and other groups economically disenfranchised, see gentrification as a threat to their living status, a force able to destabilize the already minimal social stability they might have. In many ways, gentrification becomes oppressive to the communities subjected to it.

A conference dedicated to the voice of minority populations in architecture, a profession that has historically been dominated by white men, gentrification is a highly relevant conversation, with many, as urbanists, understanding it, but equally troubled by it. If architects and urbanists have a responsibility to good culture, particularly those representing disenfranchised populations, how can we accept a culture of development that doesn’t do as much as cure as it does displaces.

The historic Dryades Street which has been renamed to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, who notably led a civil rights effort at that location.
The historic Dryades Street which has been renamed to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, named after a notable civil rights leader who led an anti-segregation movement at this location.

Scott Ruff, a professor at the Tulane school of Architecture, was fast to open his seminar clarifying that gentrification is a natural phenomenon. Communities naturally change over time, fall into economic decline, and rise into prosperity, and in that process incorporate new populations into its fabric. It was to be understood at the beginning, that despite the probably anger toward the subject by some of the audience, it was important to recognize gentrification as sociological force that needs to be manipulated, almost implying that there is a reverse understanding of gentrification as a largely manmade, oppressive system implemented against communities of color and other minorities for the benefit of the white man.

——– Race rhetoric was largely fair and respectful throughout the conference, conscious to understand the intentions of another people. However, being held in a city and state with a legacy of legalized racial inequality and systematic oppression of people of color, there were certainly, and understandably, moments where the legacy of such tension was visible.———————————-

It was apparent throughout the conference that redevelopment in New Orleans, even before Katrina, has been incredibly community-focused. The hurricane only served to strengthen the relationship between community members and various forces of redevelopment. Carefully titling his presentation and idea ‘The People as Genius Loci‘ , Scott empowered our understanding of community members as not just recipients and subjects of design and redevelopment efforts, but alluded to classical Roman paganism, in understanding communities as New Orleans’ Genius Loci, or spiritual guardians and defenders of a place. It is through the strength of a collaborated community, more than the designers themselves, to implement positive redevelopment, redevelopment in a way that is most respectful to the legacies of their communities, and conscious to defend against opportunities for gentrification that are so common in developing communities, especially in a world where construction teams, developers, and even certain designers, are so profit driven.

The unimaginable destruction of Hurricane Katrina decimated neighborhoods that were already socio-economically modest, such as the Lower Ninth Ward.
The unimaginable destruction of Hurricane Katrina decimated neighborhoods that were already socio-economically modest, such as the lower 9th ward.

The seminar was to suggest a method of positive urban development in a way that resists the forces of gentrification. Scott Ruff suggests that a conscious community redevelopment, integrating designers and community members alike, that builds residences and venues conscious, respectful and consistent to the cultural values and a legacy of a community could be a strong methodology for positive development, and resisting gentrification. Scott presented a series of projects, focussing on re-development in the lower 9th ward, and the development of the Oretha Castle Halley district across the 1st, 2nd and 10th wards.

The Donald Harrison Sr. Museum and Cultural Center enlightens the lower 9th ward with the festivity of Mardi Gras Indian tradition.
The Donald Harrison Sr. Museum and Cultural Center enlightens the lower 9th ward with the festivity of Mardi Gras Indian tradition.

Occupying a residential lot in the impoverished and nearly eradicated lower 9th ward, the Donald Harrison Sr. Museum and Cultural Center was a two-year project achieved through the collaboration of the Tulane City Center and the community of Mardi Gras Indians concerned for the future of their culture. A design-build project of modest physical scale, the center includes an open performance space affronting its lawn, inviting locals to enjoy and experience the festive culture that New Orleans is so historically rooted in. A classroom is enclosed on the interior, complete with books, a washroom and storage space.

All Soul's Episcopal Church and Community Center converted a Walgreens into a space functional for worship and community programs.
All Soul’s Episcopal Church and Community Center converted a Walgreens into a space functional for worship and community programs.

Also in the 9th ward, the All Soul’s Episcopal Church converted a Walgreen’s into a new space for worship after losing their original space to Katrina. Walls were painted and then fronted by a wooden prop-wall with cut outs for doors and around the center of the cross. The converted Walgreen’s Church also provides an extensive after school program, enriching local children with tutoring, homework help, lesson in cooking and orchestra, and provides them dinner before bussing them back home at night.

A vision for the development of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard from the designers at the Tulane City Center.
A vision for a façade renewal program for the commercial district of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, conceived by the designers at the Tulane City Center.

To the other side of New Orleans’ CBD and French Quarter is the emerging neighborhood along Haley Oretha Castle Boulevard. Mostly spared from the hurricane, the neighborhood’s prior decay is due to social and economic factors in the 80’s and 90’s. What was originally Dryades Street was renamed in honor of a legendary female hero of the mid-20th century civil rights movement, who led a boycott on the street that now bears her name.

Respecting the cultural legacy of Oretha Castle Haley and the significance of her character to the African-American community, and the New Orleans community together, designer and developers have dotted the boulevard with well-designed, culturally respective projects that intend to elongate and celebrate the city’s cultural legacies. Included are the New Orleans Jazz Market, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, and a restoration to an abandoned grammar school that includes a civil rights museum and a Jack and Jake’s, a New Orleans’ based food market dedicated to quality, local food. The new projects are accompanying the established Ashé Cultural Center, and Café Reconcile, a grassroots community education and vocational training program.

The yet to be opened New Orleans Jazz Market will celebrate New Orleans' legacy in Jazz music, incorporating museum, performance hall and practice rooms into a combined space.
The yet to be opened New Orleans Jazz Market will celebrate New Orleans’ legacy in Jazz music, incorporating museum, performance hall and practice rooms into a combined space.
The Southern Food and Beverage museum is a non-profit dedicated to the celebration of culinary excellence in South.
Named after another noted Civil Rights leader, the broken and decayed Myrtle Banks School building is being reconverted into a progressive food market, civil rights museum, and banquet space, the latter was attended to by participants of the 2015 NOMA Conference.
Named after another noted Civil Rights leader, the broken and decayed Myrtle Banks School building is being reconverted into a progressive food market, civil rights museum, and banquet space, the latter was attended to by participants of the 2015 NOMA Conference.
The Ashé Cultural Arts Center celebrates the African heritage of the surrounding community, engaging them in the cultural traditions of their ancestors and reflecting on their accomplishments and achievements through and after the diaspora.
Opening in the 1990s, Café Reconcile is a vocational and culinary school for locals in need of a new structure in their lives. It is a frequent stop by local New Orleanians and even tourists for their celebrated soul food and low prices.

Learning and seeing the development of these neighborhoods from economic or natural decimation into community-oriented, successful neighborhoods was inspiring. However, the central concern, whether or not these efforts truly are able to combat the forces of gentrification, is up for further discussion. Although the efforts to instill a community-oriented and culturally respective redevelopment are certainly commendable. However, the sociological beast of gentrification, as Scott Ruff seems to have acknowledged, is more complicated of a science than just culturally-responsible development.

What forces are stopping non-originals from becoming so attracted by recent developments that they decide to move their and change the community makeup? What design factors or civic policies are controlling the rising economic strength of the neighborhood so that the benefits are felt within the community, not pulled apart from it? These are not answered. Despite the unknown future of the social scene of the Oretha Castle Haley neighborhood, these efforts, largely led by the Tulane City Center who calls the neighborhood, home, are certainly a commendable start.

Collaborative Action: Designing with Community

Ranging from the highly-urban environments in Seattle or Chicago to the modest environments of rural North Carolina and Mississippi, eight communities across the United States received projects in small-scale designs, to community event days, to collaborative artistic movements. The recipients of the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship, funded by the feel good, socially-conscious Fetzer Institute, young, recently licensed architects designed and developed enrichment projects for the betterment of different communities, through a methodology that Enterprise is calling ‘Collaborative Action’.

Presented by Boston-based Nella Young, director of the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship, and  recent architecture licensee and Rose fellow Emily Roush Elliot, the participants of the seminar were introduced to the eight projects that were further elaborated in a complete publication, ‘Made With Love‘.

Each receiving a $5,000 grant, each project was approached with specific circumstances to their given communities, through a general framework cited as ‘compassionate listening, collaborative action, and collective reflection’. The three-step methodology, further detailed and/or changed given the circumstances and contexts of a given community, is attempted to solve a routine ill of typical community “design saviors”, where designers enforce their own philosophies upon a community without dialogue. Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows hope to remove the inefficiency and stigma by promoting and being very attentive to community dialogue.

Listening is the very first part of the process. Upon arrival to a community, fellows strive for initial silence and are conscious to avoid any presupposition as to what might be an appropriate solution. Rather, the approach is to engage in appropriate, interview-style conversation with a community to reach an appropriate diagnosis. Only upon such diagnosis may the process continue into collaborative action, the development of a project involving the direct labor and effort of community members themselves, and final reflections upon a project’s completion.

Praised and admired for their creative community projects and collaborative efforts, the audience proceeded to interrogate and redirect the conversation toward figuring out a proper way to evaluate the success of such projects.

Given the recentness of their efforts, and their largely non-scientific nature, but rather cultural efforts, effectively evaluating the change in a community after a project is not so-straightforward. The presenters were challenged in trying to imagine how they might be evaluated, producing a collective discourse among the participants of the seminar. Experienced designers from the NOMA community, together with the presenters, certainly realized that the typical architect is so fixed and accustomed to tangibly physical outcomes of his or her projects, that to accept such an ambiguous and non-specific outcome, is rather strenuous at first. It was discussed that factors such as crime rates, performance in education and health could all be statistical evidence for the success of such community enrichment projects. In a much longer-term suggestion, there was the notion that perhaps the events presented to the community by the designers could inspire a child to take up a certain career or goal in his life. However such could clearly not be effectively measured within a reasonable time frame.

Fellow Emily Roush Elliot made the case for the non-necessity for statistical data in assessment of such projects. Success was evident enough in the spirit such projects brought to their community, emphasizing the power that such projects hold in their moments of execution. No one came to object or challenge her proposition, however she was certainly met with skeptical eyes.

One participant came to suggest what might be the most reasonable, practical, and sensible approach to assessing the success of these projects. Simply put, does the community maintain the positive behaviors instilled by these projects, or do those become lost with time, if not shortly after the project ends.


Hirabayashi Place, Seattle’s International District


Dedicated to the legacy of Asian-American civil rights leader Gordon Hirabayashi, who notably challenged the United States for the internment of Japanese nationals during World War II, the architectural development is a symbol of Seattle’s historic and thrived Japanese-American community. An antiquated rendering, the newest development to its facade include paintings of Hirabayashi and relevant symbols to force the remembrance of an almost forgotten civil rights hero, and testify to the strength of a prevalent ethnic community.

Ujamaa Food Market, Asheville, North Carolina


From the Swahili word for ‘extended family’ or ‘brotherhood’, the Ujamaa Food Market is a mobile market of local, organic produce, affordable to low-income families of a rural southern community. It’s mission is to not only provide quality food, but to educate and inform populations about healthy food practices and the sustainability of eating local produce.

Mobile Workshop, Lathrop Homes, North Side, Chicago

Workshop Van

What began with conversation with the developers and community of an affordable housing project on the North Side of Chicago, quickly turned into a community-oriented design opportunity. After hearing of complications and difficulties directly from the community itself, the Rose Architectural Fellow designed a portable workshop for the community’s access so that they might collaborate through building.