Thursday, September 17, 2015

Improving The Existing Site

By Aaron Neal

Hello, my name is Aaron Neal, and I am currently an Architectural Graduate student here at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  I went through the undergraduate program here after getting my associate degree from Lincoln Land Community College.  While I have been here at SIUC for the past three years, I have worked on a number of projects.  Some local here in Carbondale, and others as far as Helsinki.  These projects have been off all types, ranging from schools, churches, houses, transit centers, museums, and master plans.   While working on every project, I was instructed to not only think about my project but how my project affects the environment it is placed in.   In site planning class, for instance, I was told the whole point of site planning is to improve the already existing land.  With this in mind, I made sure that each project I worked on would not only be a great piece of Architecture, but also an improvement to its environment.  For instance, I was instructed to design a transit hub for Santa Cruz.  To help give back to the city, I included retail and housing along with the center to give more jobs and residents to that district, all while at the same time using the original property given to me.  Most of the projects I have done worked fairly well with fitting into their proposed site.   The question that has come up to me on my most recent project is how to design something to help a city district while being brand new and stimulating growth for the city.
                The project in question is a masterplan design for a new city district in Baltimore, MD.  The flat land is on the bay with a long waterfront edge which sounds like a designers dream.  The issue coming up though is the neighborhood surrounding the proposed site.   It is on a lower income level than the new city would be, so how do you build or design something - that is meant to attract higher income traffic – right next to something old and run down.   If you just build up a five-star hotel next to a district that is in decline, then you will only have a split in the district.  This split will only grow and cause more division within the cities citizens.  So what do you do?  Do you build the new district with plans to demolish the existing homes and run out its residents?  Do you just find a new site to build your district and leave the existing neighborhood to decline in peace?  I think neither are an appropriate solution.  The first solution only masks the issues of the declining neighborhood.  You just run people out only to try and forget about them when you have the higher class of people move in.  The second solution just ignores the declining issue altogether.  In both situations, the original neighborhood gets the short end of the stick.  I think with a problem like this, you have an opportunity to somehow design a new district that improves upon the existing neighborhood while also allowing for new city growth to move in.  Having the new district come in as phases would help also by allowing the existing neighborhood to adapt and adjust for the coming changes.  You could start off with park-like features for the neighborhood to use while plans are made to bring in the new shops, offices, and hotel.  This could allow for the existing neighborhood to make the new district their home as well.  

                Even this kind of solution would be tough, though.  It is a very complex problem with no one right solution.  As the designer, I could just design a new district without considering the consequences and get my reward, but how does that help improve what is already there?  I believe as a student and one day as an Architect it is my duty to do no harm to society and to improve the existing site with my design.  

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