A Landscape of Encounter_Reconfiguring existing levels of users, inciting adjacency through architectural interventions.

Project

The masters dissertation has been developed in a particular part of New York, Brooklyn called Red Hook. I have spent a total of almost four weeks on site.

Red Hook is a vulnerable area in Brooklyn, cut off by huge infrastructures, without any metro stops, pressured by developers, gentrifiers and flood. It is also a very industrial area, with a comparative quite low rental cost and land value. New York’s first IKEA has been established right in the south of Red Hook, and it is characterized by a huge cruise dock and a new ferry stop which has been inaugurated one year ago by the mayor De Blasio.

Through three themes (honesty, immediacy and inclusiveness/exclusiveness) which were detected by wandering the streetscapes of Red Hook, the most interesting site upon which to intervene was selected, “The Atlantic Basin”.

It is in the moment, where unintentional or invisible interferences are detected that the architectural intra/intervention is brought in.

On the one hand to enhance these interferences, on the other hand to make room for new levels of collectivity and intended adjacency.

Within the Atlantic Basin, a specific intervention space was defined, where the landscape of encounter through architectural intervention is shaped. It is this specific ‘strip’ that the concentration of current and potential encounter, adjacency and collectivity was detected as highest.

The architectural interventions consist of 4 different ones.

  1. NYC Ferry
  2. Dock Building #3
  3. Portside NY – Mary A. Whalen
  4. Extra Small – Parking

Interview

What prompted the project?

The project originated within the framework of Streetscape Territories under the mentorship of prof. dr. Kris W.B. Scheerlinck, for my master dissertation project of the academic year 2017-2018 in the International Master of Science in Architecture at KuLeuven, Faculty of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels.

Streetscape Territories is the name given to an international collective research practice that focuses on the transformation of the urban fabric through architectural intervention, considering the making of diverse and tolerant streetscapes the main objective to achieve socially, economicallyand environmentally sustainable environments for its inhabitants.

The research deals with the way architectural interventions, open spaces, the property structure and its inherent accessibility and permeability, configure streetscapes as manifestations of social and productive encounter and how their inhabitants can give meaning to them by appropriation.

The research method is based on unveiling multiple narratives of a place through on-site observation and mapping, close collaborations and conversations with stakeholderswith a strong focus on permeability and models of proximity within a street or a neighborhood.

The research and design approaches are defined by five main concepts: Depth, Collective Space, Proximity, Spatial Delimitation, Openness and Functional indetermination.(Kris W.B. Scheerlinck)

How was your experience on site for four weeks? What variety of means did you use to document and understand the specific conditions of Red Hook?

Together with 17 other international students who chose to develop their master dissertation within the context of Streetscape Territories, I have been twice to New York, Red hook on site.

A first time at the start of my project for two weeks, without having a defined assignment nor program, except the means to ‘make architecture’. These first two weeks of observing and developing a personal vision for Red Hook were very important to make decisions on how the project would evolve and what my main points of interest were. Photography was one of my main tools to document the site, together with interviews, collages and sketches.

We had a first presentation of our findings in the New York Times Building designed by Renzo Piano, where our Flanders House is situated on the 44th floor. This set the tone for the next three months of research and developing our in Belgium.

After those months we spent another two weeks on site to finalize the design concept, research and start with the final drawings of the project. We had a semi-final presentation in the New York Times Building with international jury members.

The experience on site in Red Hook was mandatory to participate to this master dissertation, but very necessary and fascinating to document, develop a vision and project.

How important was photography as a tool to record the existing conditions? What definedthe way you choose to frame the site?

As mentioned before, photography and mainly analog photography was the most important tool to record the existing conditions. It was my way to frame, order and document the different scenery’s, objects and details I was interested in or where I felt intrigued by.

When back in Belgium, these pictures helped me to select and categorize my interests which led me to introduce three themes: honesty, inclusiveness/exclusiveness andimmediacy.

Thus, the photographs where really the starting point for every drawing, every collage and every intervention decision I made throughout the process.

How did you start to define the four different types of interventions?

Choosing a site within Red Hook has been very abruptly, where I found the intensity of my three defined themes the highest. The Atlantic Basin (intervention site) is a landscape where several user groups pass without touching. The concrete soil with its warehouses is acting as a platform where different actors are using the space and infrastructure for their own particular means and needs.

There are accidental interferences between thesegroupsand some other users of the Atlantic Basin, such as the inhabitants of Red Hookfor example, who come and watch the departure of the cruise or the travellers using the ferry that could arrive simultaneously.

It is in this moment, where unintentional or invisible interferences are detected that the architectural inter/intra-vention is brought in. On the one hand to enhance these interferences, on the other hand to make room for new levels of collectivity and intended adjacency.

Detecting the spatial qualities of this environment has been the first step towards developing the four architectural interventions.

Within the Atlantic Basin, a specific intervention space was defined, where the landscape of encounter through architecturalintervention wasshaped. It is in this specific ‘strip’ that the concentration of current and potential encounters, adjacency and collectivity was detected as highest.

Reducing such a complex landscape to one intervention seemed not right, the Atlantic Basin called for multiple scales, levels and spatial configurations. This is where I started to apply a more accupunctural design method, defining different points where the process of reconfiguring the area through interventions would take place.

How instrumental was the drawing as means through which to test and explore these in relation to the context?

From the start it has been important to draw in an extremely detailed manner, from the very American streets to the water sewage points and even the cracks in the concrete. Detailing these in all my plans made the introduction of my interventions in relation with the context very tangible. In plans as well as sections, I tried to detail the ‘Red Hook’ atmosphere so to explore the relation between existing context and newly added layers.

What defined the selection of drawings (plans, views etc) through which you reveal the project as a completed artefact?

I think the selection of drawings came quite naturally throughout the process, once the focal point became clear and the four main interventions started to emerge. Each of the interventions are for me equally important within the project, as it is all about the reconfiguring of the Atlantic Basin, pushing the levels of users closer, intensifying and densifying the area. Thus, every intervention needed its own detailed plans, section and image to fully grasp or imagine the intended atmospheres.

The amount of drawings was never defined from the beginning, but at the end it became clear that the project needed several ‘steps’ or processes to indicate the unfolding of the landscape of encounter.

What informed the use of borrowed images from paintings as those of Hopper?

Approaching a city’ (E. Hopper, 1946)has been the first starting point on how my personal interpretation of Red Hook has evolved. How this ‘city’ in Hopper’s paintingcould very well be representing Red Hook, approaching it takes some efforts, cut off by huge infrastructures that are slowly entering and invading it.

As an American realist painter Hopper was known to derive inspiration fromon the one hand common features of American life and its inhabitants and on the other hand seascapes and rural landscapesbut also for his fascination for theAmerican urban sceneand I quote:

our native architecture with its hideous beauty, its fantastic roofs, pseudo-gothic, French Mansard, Colonial, mongrel or what not, with eye-searing color or delicate harmonies of faded paint, shouldering one another along interminable streets that taper off into swamps or dump heaps.”

As non-American looking to Red Hook I found myself intrigued by the way these realist paintings were quite representative for what I observed.

From this point on I decided to borrow pieces of Hoppers’ -scapes and subjects to form my representations from early images to my final collages.

What is your opinion on the photo montage?

The use of photo montage or collage can be very deceitful, I think it is important to be aware of fact that it is a mere representation and almost picturesque reproduction of yet another set of thoughts, ideas and borrowed images. On the one hand I would prefer to not refer and romanticize and allude to, but on the other hand I confirm and believe that this is a very convenient tool to show in one image something that otherwise would need a lot of justification.

How and to what extent has this project shaped how you operate as an architect?

Looking back to this project, I can say with certainty that the way to approach the design process simultaneously with the research without having a defined program has been the most important mind-altering element which sharpened my already critical mindset.

As this project was my last work as an architecture student and also the most intensive one I have worked on so far, it surely has been shaping and will shape the way I operate as a starting architect.

What would you say is the architects most important tool?

I would say the architects most important tool is the observation. And the possibility to transform a critical observation into a physical and/or theoretical (meaningful) subject.

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