Heterotic Mutations : American Dream(land)

Project

The demise of rust belt cities like Gary, Indiana was brought upon by a multitude of factors – its pledge of allegiance to the steel industry, modernist planning principles like abstraction from grid and separation of city functions into zones. All of this entangled in the fragile materialization of the American Dream as an individual’s ownership of a house, a car and a plot of land.

Heterotic Mutations proposes a speculative re-imagining of the American rust belt—and, by extension, the American middle-class dream—by developing an alternative reality for Gary, Indiana. This urban fantasy reconfigures and reevaluates the relationships between heterogeneous elements of an urban and suburban condition such as ecology, changing demographics, live, work and play. By adopting the site’s ecology as a catalyst of urban operations and the main organizational tool for the city, Ecology here is the emergent whole that is constructed through the interaction of the user groups and their environment, from systems of liability and resource. This urban framework does not dominate the city but is empathetic to its contextual growth.

Heterosis is the tendency of a crossbred individual to show qualities superior to those of both parents. This principle is realized by creating mutations of programs, functions, landscapes and user groups. The city block is no longer subservient to the grid and the automobile but a dynamic porosity that relies on bottom-up development. Housing is no longer a free-size solution but a typological mashup of other embedded programs geared towards multiple user groups and their sensibilities. The nodes are dense hybrids of transit, commerce and housing that promote attitudes of the collective. We use the notion of these urban fantasies to elicit ideas for choreographed growth.

Interview

What prompted the project?

“America today is beset by a new urban crisis. If the old urban crisis was defined by the flight of business, jobs, and the middle class to the suburbs, the new urban crisis is defined by the back-to-the-city movement of the affluent and the educated—accompanied by rising inequality, deepening economic segregation, and increasingly unaffordable housing.”  – Richard Florida.

This is largely due to the unsustainable model of suburban development in which a town is directed by a unitary cause.

The demise of rust belt cities like Gary, Indiana was brought upon by a multitude of factors – its pledge of allegiance to the steel industry, modernist planning principles like abstraction from grid and separation of city functions into zones. All of this entangled in the fragile materialization of the American Dream as an individual’s ownership of a house, a car and a plot of land.

Heterotic Mutations proposes a speculative re-imagining of the American rust belt—and, by extension, the American middle-class dream—by developing an alternative reality for Gary, Indiana. This urban fantasy reconfigures and reevaluates the relationships between heterogeneous elements of an urban and suburban condition such as ecology, changing demographics, live, work and play. By adopting the site’s ecology as a catalyst of urban operations and the main organizational tool for the city, Ecology here is the emergent whole that is constructed through the interaction of the user groups and their environment, from systems of liability and resource. This urban framework does not dominate the city but is empathetic to its contextual growth.

What defined the various images/drawings through which you choose to reveal the project?

Dealing with such an absurd scale of design, we realized a standard architectural documentation would not suffice. It was more important to frame representation as a narrative with an act of zooming-in and zooming-out revealing different layers of the project. We found a parallel in Powers of Ten by Eames and we chose to address the frames as City – Region – District – Neighborhood – Citizen. While at the larger scale, the representation as urban maps reveals the logic of growth and acts as a time-lapse of the multiple elements being introduced to the site. At a more human scale, we created storyboards to reveal the innate function of different user groups as living, working, shopping, transit and recreation and the heterogeneity that lies within.

How important was the notion of the collective within the representation of the project?

A major undertaking in the formation of the American Dream was the stress on the individual. MY house, MY yard, MY car, MY land. We wanted to alter this with a vision towards the collective. Heterosis is the tendency of a crossbred individual to show qualities superior to those of both parents. This principle is realized by creating mutations of programs, functions, landscapes and user groups. The city block is no longer subservient to the grid and the automobile but a dynamic porosity that relies on bottom-up development. Housing is no longer a free-size solution but a typological mashup of other embedded programs geared towards multiple user groups and their sensibilities. The nodes are dense hybrids of transit, commerce and housing that promote attitudes of the collective. We use the notion of these urban fantasies to elicit ideas for choreographed growth.

What informed the specific moments staged as views into the project?

The project developed through a re-orientation of the american dream, and how the precedent of normal cadences and patterns of life can be redrawn with respects to our new understanding of urban/sub-urban development. At the largest scale, the city is re-imagined in two areas; the new extension of the existing city fabric, and reclaiming of the industrial waterfront. Monuments of factories and smoke stacks are replaced by algae farms and brine production facilities (to name a few). The identity of the industrial landscape would be forever changed as old industries die out and new sustainable means of economy take their place. At the human scale of the project, the lens is determined by the multiple users groups that the project invites. No longer is the American Dream accessible to normative family structures (one mother, one father, and two children), but a multiplicity of user groups that are independent of the heavy hands of the steel industry that will eventually suffocate Gary, IN. In order to develop the project, a narrative of local residents, immigrant populations, and Chicago commuters were illustrated through their housing, commute to work, occupations, recreation, and commerce.

What role does colour play within the images? How does it relate and describe the Natural environment stimulated by the project?

We knew that the notion of the new American Dream was as much about the collective and emergent as it was about the voice of the individual. The differentiation of colors and patterns started as ode to individual expression through tastes and values in a new sub-urban/urban landscape. Eventually, the coloration of the project started to be ingrained within the conceptual nature of the ecological urbanism. Native species decorate the landscape as well as non-native species brought by relocated populations. The diversity of color and function of the landscape correlates to a new multiplicity of resident and economy by which Gary will come to gain a new cultural identity.

 

What purpose do the models hold? What defined its materiality?

The models are all solid concrete. The model making process was a part of a larger set of research as it applies to fabrication and representation. We were interested in the excess and composition of the objects as much as the content and story that they tell. The way in which the texture of the landscape could goes beyond 2 dimensions and into a 3 dimensional language that illustrates depth, shadows, and drama. There was a need to tell a story through the models, by which they are frozen frames in a narrative of urban development. I almost see them as tableau carvings or pediments on a Greek temple with a mural  sculpted into its facade that is frozen in time, but you can read into its past, present, and future all at once.

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