The theses produced by students in the GSD’s Department of Urban Planning and Design are a testament to the capacity for creative and engaged scholarship to advance our understanding of the built environment and meaningfully contribute to public knowledge. The commitment to critical inquiry, methodological rigor and passionate reasoning embedded in each project is a welcome counterpoint to the easy answers and unsubstantiated claims that increasingly dominate public discourse. In keeping with the enlightenment tradition, students’ projects acknowledge and build upon the strengths and weaknesses of prior research efforts. Looking forward, however, students’ arguments simultaneously situate them at the forefront of what is known and put them in conversation with the future trajectory of our professions and of society more broadly.
Danji refers to a housing superblock that emerged during the 1970s as the post- war product to meet the demand of Seoul’s swelling population. It remains as a predominant type of housing—as of 2020, 11 percent of Seoul is occupied by danji and 60 percent of the population resides in them. As the first generation danjis now face redevelopment, it is critical to rethink formal organization that goes beyond the homogeneity and repetition of modernism and to imagine a housing model that reflects the demographic transformation—the dissolution of the “nuclear family” as a social unit and the diversity of households.
Like many other modernist housing projects, the existing urban form of Banpo Danji exhibits a lack of diversity and identity in its public space. Without resorting to a complete erasure, the project proposes a network of bands into an existing field of housing slabs. These bands are like paths in that they connect: they run north-south to link the housing bars that run west-east, as well as the nodes within and outside of the site. Beyond the means of linkage, this weave of form becomes a passage that allows for a multiplicity of itineraries while creating a gradient of public to private space in its stratified field. Each band has its own character, texture, and rhythm—ranging from a grand canopy, a grove of pine trees, to a series of stairways—and together they form a range of experiences through which residents can traverse, encounter, switch, or meander. Situated between path and passage, the project attempts to reconcile the “urban” and “human” scales by orchestrating precise relationships between the surrounding context, the bands, and the housing blocks.
Extrametropolis is a multiscalar investigation of the agency of urban design in integrating urban form to transportation and infrastructure. It attempts to envision an alternative future for development frameworks for cities in the State of São Paulo.
São Paulo is a victim of its own success. It consistently has outgrown its urban capacity and infrastructure—from village to city, city to metropolis, and metropolis to region over the past 200 years. By doing so, it faces environmental, social, and economic struggles that are extrapolated by its own scale. The growth logic of other major cities in the state echo São Paulo’s formula of expansion and continue to develop, perpetuating this model and extrapolating the accumulation of negative externalities that come with uncontrolled growth at a regional scale.
Extrametropolis seeks to challenge the growth logic in São Paulo, laying out the agency urban design can have in structuring the intersections between infrastructure, urban form, and transportation to allow for new and viable futures. It builds on the ongoing context of a State Regional Rail project (Trem Intercidades) that seeks to integrate São Paulo’s main cities through seamless rails. It sets Campinas, São Paulo, as a pilot project for a new multiscalar design framework that attempts to address the socioeconomic and environmental challenges uncontrolled growth has created. This strategy, showcased in Campinas, could be reproduced in other cities along the entire regional rail network, throughout an area that is home to over 30 million people.
Beyond the legibility of the image of the city in terms of its physical form, there is a sensual and spiritual character—which is where the power of healing lies.
Urban design tends to respond to the rationality of functional and technological needs to address the different domains, such as those of the program, organization, economic production, and so on. However, the layers of the emotional and metaphysical characters of the environment flattened when detached from the human senses. We encounter the city with our own bodies of haptic, tactile, and embodiment. Urban design shall be liberated from the role of functionalism and ought to also embrace design for the senses to reclaim the healing role of environmental design, to re-sensualize the site through a strengthened sense of time, fragrance, acoustics, temperature, materiality, and other often intangible parameters.
This thesis uses the decommissioned Kaohsiung Oil Refinery as an experimental ground to explore its environmental design’s potential role in healing, made more meaningful given its complex emotional and political history. A city with a close relationship with heavy industry benefits from the development of industrialization but also suffers a commensurate misfortune. The legacy of heavy industry, however, remains a significant collective memory of a city that needs to be remembered and reappreciated. The refinery is currently in a critical situation, as the large-scale demolition and erasure across the site is already underway. The thesis aims to explore and demonstrate the curative capacity of environmental design to address the mental, ecological, and spatial aspects.
The relationship between postindustrial urban restructuring and the spatial expansion of public universities in Western Sydney is neither fully understood nor simple. Focusing on a single institutional case study, Rescaling the University asks how Western Sydney University’s recent “vertical campuses” progress spatial and institutional rescaling efforts that respond to and further a postindustrializing urban context. Through historical research, interviews, mapping, and data visualization, the dissertation explores “vertical campuses” in terms of trans-scalar strategies for urban development, using individual projects to advance a new metropolitan tertiary education geography. These trans-scalar strategies reflect the reurbanization of Western Sydney University’s regionally focused mission, in which land acquisition and development have assumed a core position alongside pedagogical reform. At present, the University’s reurbanization has been achieved largely independently of metropolitan and municipal urban development efforts. However, evolving project delivery processes indicate that new alliances between the University and other public development institutions may emerge. I argue that these new alliances should focus on the coordination of the vertical campus network as a matter of both metropolitan planning and urban design in order to amplify and democratize the spatial, social and, economic benefits of this reurbanization process.
This design thesis proposes the transformation of a highly engineered infrastructure into one that responds to unstable natural forces and become the basis for responsive interventions. This thesis investigates the case of the São Francisco River diversion project in the Semi-Arid of Brazil. The diversion was conceived of as a set of engineered prototypical sections that are deployed along a 700-kilometer path, disregarding the environment it traverses, and dividing the territory as a hard boundary. This condition is exacerbated as the flow of its source river has been diminishing for many years due to anthropic activity and long droughts.
This design proposal has the capacity to inform change at a regional scale. It deploys accupunctural strategies that take the current built structure as a catalyst for low-tech water management interventions. It tests how this infrastructure can behave in different temporal, environmental, and social scenarios while stitching the Caatinga territory back together. The instability of the current climate regime and the demand to preserve and restore ecosystems question the sustainability of such large-scale prototypical infrastructure practice. This thesis provides a framework to intervene upon such projects, rendering them relevant to the current social and environmental era.
In 1996, the United Nations Children’s Fund launched The Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI), “to respond to the challenge of realizing the rights of children in an increasingly urbanized and decentralized world” (UNICEF, 2018). As contemporary architects, urban designers, and planners seek improved understanding of their roles and projects, there emerges an opportunity to advocate for child-centered global agendas by realizing goals at the local level. Focused around health, education, and affordable housing, this urban design thesis is interested in adapting existing suburban infrastructure to better meet the needs of children from low-income housing developments and households in the United States. An analysis of relationships between three different local housing developments in the City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire (Gosling Meadows, Wamesit Place, and Winchester Place Apartments) and three respective elementary schools (New Franklin, Dondero, and Little Harbour) reveals two primary concerns for the urban designer: firstly, the proximity and lack of pedestrian infrastructure between home and school makes it difficult and rather unrealistic for children and adolescents to actively commute; and secondly, diverse programmatic elements that structure fun and healthy places are absent in low-income areas of the city, often with more gas stations and highways than crosswalks and spaces for recreation. Pivoting on the complexity of socioeconomic structures, learning and child-developmental inequities, behavioral and health challenges, and the often neglected voice of children in the American democracy, this thesis offers an agenda to center suburban and urban development on the development of the child.