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How can neglected sites catalyze urban inland redevelopment & investment?
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TOPOGRAPHIC CENTRALITY

Cabrini-Green, Chicago
2017
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Design Project
In collaboration with Luke Tan
 

American cities are undergoing a shortage of affordable and mid-market housing. Inner city sites are in particular scrutiny, as immense neoliberal land development pressures spark fears of gentrification. In Chicago, the infamous inland Cabrini-Green area located in close proximity to downtown and the Gold Coast exemplifies this tension - the site and its surroundings latent with the history of over a century of failed experimentation in public housing. The challenge then, is to rethink how new models of mixed income housing can negotiate between the economies of scale needed for feasible financial pro forma (via density) while also providing critical urban parameters that create notions of community and neighborhood that are crucial to domestic urban life.

 

Situated in the former Cabrini Greens area of Chicago, this project introduces a civic park in combination with mixed-income housing to catalyze new development in the neighborhood and refocus Chicago's development inland, easing pressure on its waterfront. Financed by social impact bonds that achieve socially-oriented objectives through private funds, the project is conceived as an epicenter of a network of green spaces, linked together by a new proposed jogging route that connects Chicago’s existing trails from the Elevated 606 to Riverwalk. By connecting green spaces that are within a short walk of each other, an urban destination & node is created in the form of a cluster of parks.

 

On-site, this running track performs as a porous boundary that frames the civic space in the center while defining private housing at its corners. In doing so, the boundaries between public & private, interiority & exteriority, enclosure & open-ness are blurred. In totality, the running track, landscaped park, and housing components work together to create nested scales of public and private social spaces for multiple scales of community.

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(1) GENERIC FLAT

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(2) THICKEN GROUND PLANE

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(3) ACTIVATE NEW CENTRALITY

The project proposes a thickened ground plane as a new typological toolkit in a city known for its flatness. This thickened ground embeds parking and ground-level retail in its section, activating the urban streets at the site’s edges while framing a community center in its middle.

 

Elevational differences are resolved by a terraced landscape that directs circulation through a series of social spaces leading to a detention basin below the community center. Through these operations, diverse types of publicness are created over a topographic gradient from center to edge.

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Parking and retail are embedded within the thickened ground that is perforated to allow views to the community center and sunlight to the parking below. Retail provides an urban front and activation of the street, while the terraced landscape defines co-centric rings that transition outward from public to private over a gradient.

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Diverse Publicness over a Topographic Gradient

The terraced landscaped park provides a front for the community center that can accommodate crowds for events such as movie screenings. The landscape not only functions as large-scale collective space but also accommodates smaller scale social events like outdoor barbecues and picnics. The terraces simultaneously perform the function to manage water and snow by directing flow towards absorptive surfaces of the social spaces and to the detention basin in the center of the park. During the drier summer season, the detention basin below the community center can be emptied to function as a social and event space. When frozen during winter, it can be used for activities like ice skating.

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The elevation facades of the housing bars respond to two distinct and important urban adjacencies: the street versus the park. Along the exterior edge, individuality is expressed in the form of highly articulated units & their balconies. On the interior face, communality is expressed in the form of a unified and punctured mesh screen. The heterogeneous exteriors relate to the smaller scale of urban street adjacencies while the homogeneous interiors promote a sense of unity in the park.

Simultaneously, an interiorized street connects interlocking double-level housing units and is perforated to create privacy for units, views between floors, & encourage social interaction among residents. It punctures the housing volumes at key intervals, opening urban view portals to the park and city. Finally, it is conceived as a vertical extension of the landscape, connected by sight-lines and signified by materiality.

Elevations & Inner Streets
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By differentiating the facades along the interior and exterior elevations, a cinematic sequence is curated as movement along the harder edges of the block is punctuated by views of the softer interior, inviting the public into its central public space.

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SOCIAL IMPACT

BOND FINANCING

Cover_Topographic Centrality [Cropped]
Topographic.png
How can neglected sites catalyze urban inland redevelopment & investment?