Friday, February 3, 2012

Design Review at KUL on 1 Feb 2012

This is the presentation of a first design proposal review at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven on 1 Feb 2012. The following is a typed version of the presentation:

The site I’ve chosen is situated in the East of Crown Height, next to Ocean-Hill Brownville. The site contains the Prospect Plaza public housing towers. The 'tower in the park' is a problematic typology. It represents a failure of Modernism and is often associated with a high crime rate, a high percentage of youth, racial discrimination, violence and drugs. 

The Prospect Plaza public housing towers were built in 1974. In 1997, the New York City Housing Authority decided to renovate the Prospect Plaza towers with the help of federal funding from the ‘HOPE VI’-program. In 2001, the temporary relocation of the tenants was completed. The towers were then being dismantled and sealed with bricks. Since the ‘HOPE VI’-program demanded a decrease in density, one of the four towers was been demolished in 2005. The demolition included a the former community center. In 2009, a private developer had built 150 rental housing units on the adjacent site of the three remaining towers. Unfortunately, all of these units were aimed at a higher income than the income of residents of public housing. Thus these new units are unaffordable for the former Prospect Plaza tenants. Today, the three remaining towers are still standing vacant. The tenants have now been temporary relocated for more than 10 years. 

There is a plan for the future development. It seems that also the remaining towers will be demolished, instead of being renovated. A traditional row house scale development will replace them. Unfortunately a very small percentage of the 360 new housing units will be public housing. Therefore with this plan, almost none of the former Prospect Plaza tenants will be able to return home. Michael Sorkin refers to this gentrification process by the federal ‘HOPE VI’-program as common all over the United States:“There is no doubt that the neo-traditionalist row houses that have replaced the penitential public housing towers being demolished in so many American cities represent a far more livable alternative. But it is equally clear that the net effect of the HOPE VI program behind this transformation is the cruel displacement of 90 percent of the former population.”

Therefore for my design project I want to question if the traditional row house development is the only viable solution for the grid? With my design project I will rehabilitate a 15-story Prospect Plaza tower, without displacing the former tenants. The main program will then be public housing. To address the current perception and the problems with the 'tower in the park', I’ve added three additional small programs. The first one will be a small high school. This school will be primarily focused on the residents of the public housing units. The small scale and small classes will make sure that the students feel more connected to the school. Therefore it will try to reduce the local drop-out rate on the age of 17, without getting a diploma. After school activities and polyvalent use by the residents must reduce crime and violence. The second one will be shared facilities for the residents. So for example a Child Day Care Centre would reduce the unemployment rate, especially for single parents. The third program will be a legalized ‘Soft drugs’-zone. The purpose of this zone is to reduce the organized drugs crime, which is often to be found in these public housing towers. 

The pictures show that the existing interior is very dark, small and deteriorated. Since the interior is in such bad condition, the tower will be stripped to the core concrete structure and preserve this robust identity of the 'tower in the park'. Unused voids and holes of former installation will be filled with a translucent material to keep the identity of the former structure intact. 

The circulation will be moved outside, instead of in the dark center. This will create an open and living facade, compared to the monotonous and closed “tower in the park”. A playful position of stairs between the horizontal walkways will provide a quicker connection to residents on other floors and improve the social control. These stairs are oriented to the north. In the south, there are terraces in the shape of boxes. They are placed exact between the columns and floors of the former structure to accentuate it. This system would make it possible to create duplexes, without destroying the concrete structure.

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