By Cray Shellenbarger
As the thesis project unfolds, there are many decisions to be made, some more difficult than others. Recently I came upon the issue of site selection. This is especially important for my thesis because it deals with spirituality and a space’s impact on human feeling and behavior. In working through and researching particular site criteria I have come upon what I think, are the four applicable categories of sites for this thesis. Although thesis are in response to my work, I believe that all sites fall under these cultural categories.
The first of these is the Forgotten site. This site is one suffering from neglect. The site will have been developed and maintained at one point but currently fallen into disrepair. These sites may or may not have had significant meaning to their occupants at some point. Examples of this type of site can range from a building to a city. East St. Louis and Cairo, IL are great examples. These sites are often chosen for projects of redevelopment in Urban Studios. In studying these sites the students should not just focus on the current state of the regions but the causes that produced such poor conditions.
The second of the four is the Neutral site. The neutral site has no historical, cultural or spiritual meanings. This could be an open field or a bland building such as an abandon shopping center. This type of the site can be difficult to work with, in that it provides little or no contextual items to respond to. Often, designers look at complex sites as harder to work with. In truth, they should realize that the complex sites provide more stimuli to respond to, thus becoming a stronger project. However, this type of site can allow the designer to create their own idea of cultural expression.
Enriched is the third category to discuss. This site has a high level of cultural meaning. Mecca and Jerusalem are two great examples. On a smaller scale Ronchamp or the Dome of the Rock are fine examples. These sites can be difficult to work with on many levels. First of all, mistakes in cultural interpretations are not tolerated. The local inhabitants of these sites feel very strongly about the beliefs that surround them. It is difficult also for a designer to establish any type of change here. Many of these places will reject change or simply ignore it. If the designer is familiar with the cultures here it can be a great experience working within the cultural limitations.
The last to be discussed is the Contested site. In my opinion, this is the most rewarding to work with. These sites often have a complex history along with the firm beliefs similar to those of the enriched site. Examples of this category include the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The conflict of these sites range from religious differences to political problems. They may be full of violent conflict or simply just separated by class or other affiliation. This type of site gives so many contextual items to respond to that that project will almost always, if responded to properly, come across as a well thought out and developed project.
Anytime we are selecting a site we must look at all of the context. To ignore culture or local beliefs is as bad, if not worse than, ignoring topography or flood areas. In regards to culture, these four categories are a good way to look at your site. Understanding a site from this perspective will shape the building form and functionality and make for a stronger design every time.