Saturday, November 18, 2006

houston nesting pt2: application

Engineered infrastructure is not often designed for its aesthetic
qualities. In striving for a local efficiency, these structures' forms
are produced almost incidentally-- or at the very least not in
accordance with aesthetic demands.

For most systems, their effect is diffused by being difficult to
access or hidden behind screens (or under the ground), but in some
cases necessity or shee size demands that they be placed in a
relatively "open" space. If these systems are also linear, they
produce a pervasive, inevitable and some what uncontrollable effect
upon a city.

The traditional model for interfacing with infrastructure has been one
of separation and screening, leading often to a quixotic denial of
their urban presence. This also forces these linear systems into
boundary roles, dividing a city into distinct regions (fig 1).

However, given the long history of engineering and urbanism coexisting
or eveing being mutually catalytic (aqueducts trade routes canals
rail lines etc) a more inclusive method must exist.


A tree's form is deterministic much as a freeway or bayou's is; the
various requirements of sunlight, water, soil and wind qualify the
locations of leaves, branches and roots. Despite this, forests form
less of a horizontal barrier than a verticial delimination of multiple
ecologies (fig 2), where canopy, sub canopy, and forest floor are made
into viable habitats through the intermediate form of a nest-- a
sub-assembly that corrects or augments the deficiencies of the
immediate environment to produce a viable home.

What would this nest be for humans be, if it was not in the forest but
under the freeway, and not for habitation but for recreation?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

houston nesting pt1: a sense of place

This is output for a research project I've been working on with Katy and Jean. We were discussing with Clover Lee possibilites for creating a compendium of Houston ad-hoc urbanism and she told us we weren't allowed to use the phrase "sense of place" without defining what it mean, in Houston. This is what I came up with, in three parts:

1. Main Narrative

In Houston, place is not created out of a physical homogeneity or
dominant spatial characteristic; rather it emerges out of a shifting
array of collusions between program and what Lars Lerup calls
"megastructures"-- part infrastructure, part ecosystem. These
multivalent operators create space in ways more geological or
ecological than traditionally urban. In this way Houston can be viewed
as a landscape rather than as a city. Edges are blurred, as the
immediate situation is determined by the combination/collusion of
these megastructures: the freeways, plantings, vacant lots, and ad-hoc
use networks, along with even the prevalent humidity and drainage
problems-- a more elemental than sociological awareness.

2. Operators / Megastructures

freeways (bridged and trenched) bayous main drags train right of ways
tunnels sewers

swamps live oak canopies weeds cut lawns anthills city parks stray dogs

skyscrapers vacant lots megabuildings/complexes (stadiums + churches)
parking lots

museums tattoo parlors coffee shops business districts entertainment
shopping education civic

rain haze flood smoke heat chill/damp

3. Subsequent Definition: the Manipulation of Accessible Space

Nearly all space in Houston can be defined as private. However, there
are allowances. These range from the open (Menil) to the highly
perscriptive (the Galleria). However, there are always backwaters
within these systems of access, urban liminal zones with an ambiguous
sense of ownership-- someone is surely watching, but do they care? The
characterization of space by its mode of survallience and control has
replaced the notion of civic discourse through open public spaces.
This is not only in Houston. Even in more traditionally urban cities
such as New York, city parks and streets are policed and controlled
more tightly and delicately than ever before, reducing the idea of the
"public" to another nuance of access control. The traditional notion
of a "free space," in our fearful and litigious society, may have
become totally apocryphal.

Up next: pulling apart a moment?