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How can design address scale and density disjunctions in the urban environment?
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VERNACULAR TRANSECT

Site-less
2018
Harvard Graduate School of Design

In an era of single-minded development and land speculation that has led to rapid urbanization alongside a continually de-valued public realm, this site-less design research speculates on how form & space might define the need for “pubic” or multiple “publics” as the scale of density intensifies. The primitive ‘vernacular’ form is utilized to create new formal-spatial mashups that test the aggregation of open space, collectivity, and social-ness against a density spectrum or ‘transect’, pushing the vital relationship between these parameters to their limits. In doing so, spatial lessons can be extracted and landed in potential prototypical blocks or urban contexts in critical need of re-examination and contestation.

Design Research
In collaboration with Panharith Ean
 
 

This investigation explores a formal-spatial mashup into the primitive transect. As a site-less conceptual study of collectivity joining multiple densities, the primitive carve, acting as an infrastructural landscape armature, creates mutations in co-opted vernacular typologies while simultaneously mediating public to semi-private gradients of new social relief spaces from the sub-urban periphery and its transition to an urban core.

 

The primitive transect experiments with mutations of the vernacular form against parameters like density, aggregation, and gradients of sociability, set within the programmatic foundation of housing and small-scale food production like greenhouses. It offers formal-spatial lessons as an operation in ranging density while still maintaining sociability, collectivity, and open-ness.

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Conceptual co-opting of the primitive vernacular to create typologies of housing activated by new social relief spaces at two varying transect densities.

Transect A:
Suburban-Periphery
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Transect B:
Urban-Transition
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An exploration of vernacular mashups:

the Accessory Dwelling Unit

Taking formal-spatial cues from the primitive transect informs opportunities to export lessons of density, sociability, and collectivity and land them in prototypical urban sites. One of these urban sites, the archetypal privatized suburban single-family block so prevalent in development sprawl today, is ripe for re-examination and design speculation given contemporary rapid urbanization and the need for densification in cities today. Privatized single-family houses subdivide the prototypical suburban block into fenced parcels that hold very low density and yet take up a relatively disproportionate amount of area. While the block contains a large percentage of open space, these space - front lawns, side & back yards - are often devoid of urban vitality, sociability or communality between residents and with the public realm.

 

This prototypical block can be co-opted with the introduction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU's) that are tactically inserted into the backyards of existing parcels in order to increase density & provide additional rental income for home-owners that may need it. ADU's are a zoning variance that allow a smaller, independent residential dwelling unit to be built and located on the same lot parcel as an existing detached single-family home. By strategically designing ADU densification into the block, previously underutilized side & back yards can become activated by communal gardens & fruit trees while micro-openings in existing dwellings can create sociability between neighbors.

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TYPOLOGICAL TOOLKIT

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Prototypical Suburban Block

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Prototypical Suburban Block

Co-opted Block with ADU's

The ADU strategy can be implemented through multiple land ownership models. If existing homeowners opt to maintain private ownership over their respective lots, the introduction of ADU’s can be implemented on an individual parcel basis that can still encourage density, collectivity, and social interaction between residents.

If all homeowners agree to collective land ownership, a community land trust model pooling ownership into a non-profit co-op led organization ensuring long-term stewardship of the land’s improvement can be implemented. This would allow connected multi-story units, community gardens, social programming, and collective amenities to be designed into the block interior, a space that can become shared by all residents.

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How can design address scale and density disjunctions in the urban environment?