Don O’Keefe

MArch I

Investigations in Metropolitan Form: Architecture, Infrastructure, and the American City

Advised Mohsen Mostafavi

This thesis challenges the discipline of architecture to reassert its agency at the scale of the city, the region, and the territory. Using Austin, Texas, and Richmond, Virginia, as case studies, it proposes a transformation of midsize American cities through the redevelopment of urban expressways. 

In the United States, highways are symbolic of the overreach of modernist planning and of the ignorance and animus with which architects and the state have addressed people of color and the poor. They are infrastructural engines that drive our rapacious consumption of natural resources through suburbanization. The urban renewal era was a product of modernist ambition, but also a harbinger of its end. Since then, the authority of the design disciplines has been righteously assailed from below, leaving designers themselves either unable or unwilling to affect large-scale change. The moment for totalizing planning and gestural megastructures has passed, but architects must find a way to develop ambitious proposals if we are to respond to the linked crises of our own time. 

By envisioning a new metropolitan condition from the scale of the territory down to the civic space, this thesis demonstrates how a revival of architectural interest in urban form can alter patterns of life in the American city. The proposals for Austin and Richmond function as both illustrations of a mode of argument and as concrete solutions to the pressing problems of midsize cities.

Bird's eye view white gridded line