Fragments of (a)NY City

Project

*Honorable mention at Archmedium NYVC Competition

New York City can be defined as the metropolis symbol of progress, dreams, ambition and innovation. It is a city that hails the opposite of monotonous, yet deals with the existence of repetitive and tedious work spaces in majority of its buildings. From this, a question is raised: Is the architecture of office buildings out of sync with the image of New York? How do we deal with this contradiction?

The competition “New York Vertical City Pro”, hosted by Archmedium, sought proposals for a new and innovative mixed-use tower in New York City.  Bringing not only offices, but temporary housing, cultural spaces and leisure public spaces into the building. The contestants had to envision a XXI century “Vertical City” tower in the city of New York.

 

Fragments of (a)NY City

 

According to the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, we live “in a liquid modern life”, where there are no permanent bonds. Life is defined by ephemerality. Architecture takes the important and complex role of dealing with circumstances that change as quickly as they are born. The physical world has become more accessible through the virtual world. We are all always connected, regardless of our geographical location. All at once, distances, personal relations and structures that rule our society are reshaped by the influence of virtual media.

 The traditional zoning of programs by segregation becomes questionable in a reality where monotony and repetition act together for an encroaching expiry date. Hotels, retail, work, cultural and leisure spaces: programs that historically coexisted in mixed-use buildings, often resulted in “program stacking” or even in volume distinction. Is this all that mixed-use towers have to offer?

The typology reaches a new scale. The program is fragmented and interspersed throughout the building. Everything else becomes a continuous open-space, a place of circulation, human interactions, leisure, work, and unexpected surprises. Technology is responsible for the virtual connection and cohesive functionality of the fragmented program dispersed in the tower and in the city.

 When diverse programs blend together in one single space, rarely explored new qualities of use are conditioned. Identities and specific experiences are developed for each floor, resulting in diverse and democratic atmospheres. Work, leisure, culture, retail and living are diversified, and spur on to serve a larger spectrum of individuals. The potential of identity and compatibility between user and building is elevated.

Fragments of (a)NY Cityis zoned by the quality of its spaces, rather than by the programs it contains. For that, a spatial library is created. First, a spatial exploration informs how different volumes in the library interact with one another and the ambiences it creates. Only then, to each volume, a specific program is assigned. As a result of this, endless possibilities of functional and experiential use of the program are generated, informed by the many roles that distinct conditions of adjacencies play.

The virtual age in which we live allows us to break the barriers of program and space, redefining the meaning of mixed-use typology. Fragments of (a)NY Cityis a project that synthesizes the technological advances of our era, allowing for new ways of design and use. It presents a flexible and contemporary architecture that provides unique perspectives of programs and user interactions, reaching beyond the extensions of the building and taking over New York City.

Interview

What prompted the interest/participation in the archmedium competition?

We are always on the lookout for architecture competitions. It’s really rewarding to think deeply about a problem and overcome a great challenge. The competition prompt fuels the discussions we already have among ourselves as architects and encourages us to propel our conception of architecture into the context of the future. It keeps us alive as designers, always excited for the next thing.

This particular competition called our attention with its unique prompt and setting. We had been exploring different conditions that mixed-use buildings may carry and how technology can play a role in the future of architecture, so this seemed like the perfect platform for investigation. There is also a sentimentality about New York City that attracted us to it since some members of our group have lived in NYC at some point in their lives.

What is your take on the architecture competition?

Architecture competitions are a great way to share ideas and expose beliefs in a visual way. In our team, for instance, we had been looking into how data technology can act upon architecture and accomplished some projects which illustrate this research. We are constantly looking for opportunities to reevaluate traditional programs in the contemporary data driven world, and that was the case for this competition. The brief asked us to reconsider the qualities of working spaces in New York City by designing a mixed-use building. This presented a nice prospect for us to develop some of our abstract concepts. We saw it as a chance to discuss, draw, and perhaps end up with something interesting and unexpected.

What defined and informed your response to the brief?

The brief made it clear that they were looking for a solution that captured the essence of New York City and translate that into an idea of a vertical city office/mixed-use skyscraper.

New York is a very active organism, propelled by the adimensional levels of interaction between people, space and time. People from everywhere crossing paths, delightful urban spaces to encounter, multicultural establishments, art. The city is a constant burst of moments, and no single moment is ever the same. If we are designing a skyscraper for New York City, then we have to capture what makes the city so vibrant and alive. We not only want to infuse NYC’s eclecticity, but also the invisible world that surrounds us in the XXI Century – the virtual world. Technology is all over us and it has no limits when it comes to where it inhabits. On the other hand, architecture is very restrained, static. We have experienced a drastic change in the way we live in the past 20 years, but we haven’t experienced as significant of a change in the way we interact with buildings. We have new tools that could open uncharted possibilities on how we allocate and experience different programs. It’s time to start thinking how technology and architecture can come closer together.

With this in mind, our goal was to address the ways in which technology can be the catalyst for ‘bursts of moments’ within the building. We believe we accomplished that with the fusion of users and activities through the fragmentation of programs, which in turn, is made possible by technology.

What role does the axonometric hold in relation to the project? What defined this as main medium through which you choose to reveal the latter?

One of our project premisses is: what if we could forget about program and think only about space? What if computers could handle program so humans would focus on atmospheres? Although the project is technologically guided, it has a powerful sensitive dimension. We believed that the best way to explore this sensitivity was not by revealing the spaces completely, but by suggesting them instead. In order to achieve that we chose to use axonometric drawings.

We like to imagine that people could pick some spaces in the axonometric library, jump in one of the floors and experience it with their own bodies and minds.

What is the power of the GIF compared to the static image/drawing?

GIFs reflect how people generally want to consume information today: fast.

Whether we like it or not, with so much information out there, it’s hard to get someone’s attention. You have to synthesize your ideas and quickly prompt interest in your possible audience. In this scenario, GIFs come up as a powerful tool. They can offer a succinct view of the project, and catch people’s attention so they actually get to see, read about and understand the project. GIFs can give a plentiful amount of information in short time and with no effort at all. Plus, they are fun. GIFs are the graphic version of fast-food. They may not be that deep and complex, but it is hard not to like them.

What lead you to define the various characters which inhabit the building? Can we relate to these fixed stereotypes?

We were asked to rethink office buildings. So, it couldn’t be boring. It’s not about a discussion of creating open floor-plans or private cubicles. It’s about understanding that different people function in different ways. That there is no formula that is going to satisfy everyone’s needs. So we decided to design a spatial library that would create different and unexpected interactions, endless conditions. With the exploration of the spaces we were discovering, we started curating our findings into a clearer state, which became the character of each floor. These were designed in a way to provide different conditions and experiences to the user, where each person has particular elements that they feel drawn to. Considering the current nature of office spaces, the personable nature of these new conditions makes people feel more comfortable and, therefore more productive at work. We don’t think we should see the characters as stereotypes and feel like we need to fit one of them. The goal is that the user identifies peculiarities in each floor that makes them want to be there, connecting them with the building, regardless of what a character may be named.

In reflecting upon the relationship between architecture and the virtual- how do you see the project developing in relationship to technological advancements? Can we as architects and our spaces keep up?

The world we live in changes as quickly as the changes are conceived and put into action. Ephemerality is what describes best our technology and also our own lifes. In the era of “connecting” and “disconnecting”, “likes” and “unfollows”, architects have a major challenge which is to create spaces that can adapt and be flexible, but at the same time are stable enough to exist physically and be economically viable. Architecture has to respond to paradoxes.

In this project we wanted to explore the virtual realm as not only a platform for conceiving ideas, but also as a space in which architecture can happen and exist. The perception of the whole is enabled through the connection created between the parts in the virtual world. This “fragmented union” enables the project to adapt and change in a much easier and faster way as the parts are dependent and independent at the same time. The virtual is what will enable architecture to overcome its utopia.

What would you say is the architects most important tool?

Empathy, sensibility; in the era of technology and automation our capacity to understand needs, to perceive emotions and to be able to comprehend and transmit them through our ideas are the perfect counterpoint to our increasingly cold and detached world. Architects will stand out through their most primordial tool: the capacity to act as a mediator between humans, needs and our constructed environment.

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