Archive for March, 2011

Urban Axis

Mar 02 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

An idea that has absolutely captivated me since earlier this semester is the idea of axial alignment and how it ties into experience, via movement (occupation) and view (perception).

Laura Starr (of Starr-Whitehouse Architects) presented several of her projects and talked about her design process, ideas, and aspirations. One idea that really struck home was using axial alignment as a tool of organizational hierarchy. Not in a disfavored Beaux-Arts way, but in some truly interesting and dynamic configurations that are clearly legible and experientially interesting.

In the redesign of Battery Park, Starr-Whitehouse created three primary axes. All three axes focus on the landing dock, where large crowds of tourists disembark. The first, primary axis, takes the form of a wide pedestrian promenade, cutting through formally arranged lawns, moving directly toward the financial district. The second axis is a paved boardwalk, and it runs parallel to the waterfront, allowing parts of the crowd to disperse in every direction, including into the park itself. The third “axis” is conceptual, it fills the right angle created by the other two, and is much smaller in scale. this axis is actually a series of curving paths and outdoor “rooms” (demarcated by trees and other plantings), its purpose is to provide an “axis of romance” for regulars in the park. And so, with three axes, comes three experiences, based on three levels of engagement, fueled by three different desires. Escaping, promenading, and romancing. She offered a few other examples, which were equally interesting and legible (her firm’s renovation of Lions Court on the Columbia University Campus, for example).

So how does this tie in?
This semester, we’re focusing on Urban Housing schemes, which we are currently pursuing in the form of a Newark Masterplan design charette. The obvious connection is that a neighborhood can be created by arranging it on an axis or a set of cross axes. The strongest local example is Ferry Street, which is the lifeblood of the Ironbound. By calling attention to the intentionality of the axis, one creates a diagram of “place” that allows easy navigation. I feel as though the neighborhood axis idea fits into Kevin Lynch’s urban planning ideas, of which I am a big fan.

  • paths, the streets, sidewalks, trails, and other channels in which people travel;
  • edges, perceived boundaries such as walls, buildings, and shorelines;
  • districts, relatively large sections of the city distinguished by some identity or character;
  • nodes, focal points, intersections or loci;
  • landmarks, readily identifiable objects which serve as external reference points.

Where “axis” equals “path” it helps to define a “district”, and where two axis intersect is a “node”.

My team’s proposal for the urban plan connected the commercial axis of Broad Street to the commercial axis of Ferry Street, via a pedestrian friendly axis which moved diagonally through the site (approximately 6 blocks or so). I really liked the proposal, it was formed in the image of my reflections on Laura Starr’s axial planning strategies. Off of the main axis were two secondary axes, and several tertiary axes. The secondary axes facilitated movement to/from Penn Station or the Prudential Center. The tertiary axes allowed romantic usage of the space by occupants of the mid and high-rise residential units, giving them privacy, the softness of an organic plan, and a sense of familiarity (which outsiders would be likely to perceive, but not experience).

At least, that’s how I imagined it, though I can’t say it read that way after only a single weekend of design development. Sadly, my proposal was rejected, as were the other three. Our section critic sent us back to the collective drawing board with little guidance beyond what we’d done wrong and what boundaries we’d overstepped. At the very least, I got a first chance at working with a tool that should have been apparent to me long ago. I’m sure it will reappear in my future projects though, hopefully ones where I can develop it further.

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