Friday, November 2, 2007

thinking out loud

Looking down the unaccepted street-kaleidoscope opens up a myriad of strategies and forms. These streets are envelopes in which anything is possible. Zoning becomes irrelevant: we are building on public land and therefore what manifests as form is what the public desires, or what the specific conditions of site dictate. A top-down regime of this-is-industrial, this-is-that-neighborhood, you-can't-do-that-here, need not apply.

Where I am going: while still interested in the atmosphere of water on the site, my program has ballooned from a hygiene station for truckers to an entire self-contained city above the street. Housing will pay for all the parasitic goodies: rooftop garden (using compost from the dwellers plus the produce district), rain water collection, grey water recycling, trash compaction and re-use. All in the sky. A cloud of housing, a city-cloud.


Matt Baran said...

I really appreciate your optimism, but I have to ask what you plan to tell the mayor's office when you present the idea. The reason I ask is that while I am all for the rejection of all unfortunate realities as part of a studio exploration, I wonder what happens when these ideas are grafted back onto the urban fabric (by you or the people you end up teaching). I am just picturing the face of the bureaucrat that sees billboards / graffiti / projections / disco party all over what was once a perfectly functioning connector street. He might say something like, if it ain't broke don't fix it, if he isn't already laughing too hard.

If, as James Corner suggests, we are rejecting the "typically unimaginative and uncritical techniques of design as a service profession", are we doomed to be the so-called visionaries that are "always provocative and interesting" but designing utopias that "evade the problem of operative strategy"?

Nick Sowers said...

Matt, those are good points you have brought up. To answer your concerns, I must be clear about two things: the city is broken, and can only fix it via an "operative strategy", not merely through the projection of a future ideal or utopia.

The city has been broken since we began drinking from Hetch Hetchy (and probably even before that for other reasons, but I am looking through the lens of water here). The city is obligated to do some "street repair" in the sense that we can use the streets as sutures to mend a rather large gaping hole. That hole is made by all the water falling on the city and going to waste in the stormwater/sewer system (which can be overloaded and force untreated sewage into the Bay).

The hole can be made into a positive through an operative strategy: we consider waste as resource, and we localize the cycle, snipping off its dependence upon the larger system. That operative strategy is dependent on a viable use of that cycle, hence the strategy to build housing and allow active participation in the inputs/outputs of the cycle (rainwater flushes toilets, feeds compost system, grows vegetables, feeds people, flushes toilets, and so forth).

One last thing I might say is that the street must remain a "perfectly functioning connector street"--that is essential to the legitimacy of this operative strategy. In fact, the function of the street right now plays into the cycle, as it must if this is to be a truly localized diagram: waste veggies will be sucked up into the belly of the building, fueling the compost and generating heat for the water used by the residents.