Selected Undergraduate Design Studio Projects--Design IV, Fall 2011


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FALL 2011

Professors: Kevin Bone, Susannah Drake, Rafi Segal

From Nowhere to Somewhere: Envisioning Suburban Transformation

Since the post WWII years, the suburban way of life has become embedded in the American consciousness as the popular manifestation of the American Dream. More than any other form of development, North Americans have invested their newfound wealth in the suburb’s promise of affordability, space, mobility and a better family life.

The studio calls to challenge patterns of American Sprawl and the life it brings with it. Particularly rapid world transformations must lead us to questions of sustainability, economy, and the broader cultural value of this automobile dependent, form of human settlement. Our working assumption is that suburbia will and must change. We ask whether architecture can play a role in this change? Can we imagine a better environment in place of the suburb? The suburban sprawl of the past thirty years is resource intensive, un-productive, neglectful of the environment, culturally segregated and destined to become difficult to sustain at reasonable economic and energy investments.

At the heart of the matter, aside from economic, socio-political factors and other policy and planning initiatives, it is a question of form. Since the relation between land and the shape of our habitat impacts the sustainability, productivity and well being of a community.


The studio designated five general sites for study. Each represents a specific ecological condition with different typologies of suburban land use yet all appear within the one-mile grid. Within the broader area of each site is framed the equivalent of a township (six miles by six miles). The sites were AURORA, COLORADO; HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA; LUCAS, TEXAS; MISSION VIEJO, CALIFORNIA; SIMI VALLEY, CALIFORNIA.


The studio aspired to combine urban, architecture and landscape thinking and design within in a single project. The studio established constructive forms of exchange between analytical research and design. We explored and re-imagined different scenarios for the proposed sites and diverse design approaches that can lead to their transformation.

Aside from addressing the pertinent socio-cultural and urban themes, the studio offered an opportunity to re-think the role and relationship between landscape, infrastructure and architecture. The challenge was in undertaking this task while critically appropriating environmental and ecological factors as an integral part of the design process and operating at diversity of scales.


Phase 1

The first project was a short one week exercise, undertaken in groups, which looked at the larger township sites (36 sq miles, 6 x 6 mile squares) of diverse environmental and topographical conditions of the different designated sites: different environment conditions (climate, habitat), different physical settings—topography, lay of land, different densities, infrastructure and building typology. The sites can be generally characterized as outer ring suburbs, which have been developed in the past thirty years and present particular conditions yet at the same can be seen as typical of American sprawl.

Phase 2

For the second project, each student was asked to choose a single square mile out of the township scale, and examine it more closely in order to identify the element, point, space or condition from where a potential transformation can emerge. Students developed analytical drawings as a reading of the environment, drawings that called out certain phenomenon and defined environmental conditions. This exercise entailed a possible architectural action of transformation, i.e. an architectural/urban/landscape strategy that has implications on multiple scales.

Phase 3

For the third and final phase of the semester each student worked independently to develop a specific design proposal that tested the strategies arrived at in the second exercise and further explored some of the suggested transformations. Each project was expected to establish a narrative that takes into consideration the early analysis and observations of the larger scale studies, and a series of operations, which can be deployed and tested at the larger scale.



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