Premise: This project takes the assertion by the majority of climate scientists that we have a set deadline to reverse CO2 emissions as one of utmost importance. A vital, underexplored avenue of both carbon dioxide sequestration and heavy metal remediation (another major environmental pollutant) is in the deployment of some of our smallest allies on Earth: micro-organisms.
MnDRIVE—Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy—is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the State of Minnesota that aligns areas of research strength with the state’s key and emerging industries to address grand challenges. In 2013, the State of Minnesota authorized an $18 million recurring annual investment in five research areas, one of which is Environmental in nature - and with a particular interest in environmental remediation via micro-organisms (source: MnDRIVE website).
The Minneapolis & Saint Paul metro area of Minnesota is a prototypical US beltway city. The urban planning after the second world war centered intensely around the automobile. Sprawl makes the automobile a near-necessity for suburban to urban travel (and vice versa), and in some cases even simple urban travel. Near-recent investments in lightrail and other mass transit can alleviate much of this for the near-urban dweller, but the automobile still remains a fixture of the greater metro area. Automobiles and land freight account for about one third of the CO2 emissions of the US.
Concurrently, as is the case with many beltway and rust belt cities in the US, there is an increasing interest in rehabilitating sites that have been affected by the detritus of industry. In the near- center of Minneapolis (slightly to the south of center, to be exact), an area often sequestered from recent greening efforts on the part of the city, there is a site that has long been a fissure in the reconnecting of pedestrian-focused greening efforts between districts. The map below also indicates the number of problematic environmental sites within just a half mile of this notorious K-Mart big box store site that has long severed connections between separate pedestrian districts of the city.
Program: Taking all of this into consideration, this project proposes a Testbed Center for Bioremediation at the eastern half of this K-Mart lot. The primary intention is to create spaces for a University of Minnesota venture which researches and deploys methods of environmental remediation via micro-organisms - algae in CO2 capturing, and fungi in heavy metal remediation.
In addition, the Center would provide both exterior and interior, public and semi-public spaces of varying sizes that are intended to knit the site into the existing city pedestrian fabric. Connections are made between the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street, activated with an Amphitheater, Test Algae Pond/Ice Rink, Farmer’s Market/Food Cart Space, Flexible Green Space, and habitable topographical shards generated by the program dwelling below. The research component provides an opportunity to blend an experience of the micro-organisms at work into the circulation of the site. An interior Algae Botanical Garden, and a research-focused Myco Forest below that, are opportunities for us to intimately experience these lifeforms in unexpected ways - seeing, feeling, touching, and smelling them in new contexts.
Form Finding:In taking the notion of the uncanny into consideration, Biophilia was quickly decided upon as an avenue to push the program into an idea of landscape-as-building.
“A Biophilic City is a city abundant with nature, a city that looks for opportunities to repair and restore and creatively insert nature wherever it can.”
-Timothy Beatley, Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, 2011
The colliding shards of the rock formations near Lake Superior provided early inspiration. This was integrated with notions of the undulating western Minnesota prairie. The program insertions take the highly axial formality of the city grid and break it into shards embedded in the earth. This introduces an abundance of moments of Prospect, Mystery, Refuge, and Risk into the static grid. As the seasons change, these shards provide a change in use from repose (laying in the sun, picnics, etc) to activity (sledding on certain shards, etc). The procession from exterior to interior attempts to adjust the visual connection to outer nature from forefront to background - as the large clerestories of the shards allow an enormous amount of sunlight into the building at certain moments. But the program of the building takes priority at this point, with the Algae Botanical Garden and Myco Forest taking over the senses.
The Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) Residence Hall is highly tuned to the visu-centric world of its users and was deveoped through careful study of Deaf culture, language and perceptions of space.
MSSD provides a tuition-free, high school program for deaf and hard of hearing students, most of whom live at school. Located at the northern end of Gallaudet University’s campus, the original buildings were built in the early 1970’s and have largely fallen in to disrepair. This new 160 bed residence hall houses all MSSD students in a single building and provides much needed social spaces and faculty apartments.
Conceived of as a “home away from home” the building is comprised of two main wings connected by a single story entrance lobby. Beyond housing its students, the new dormitory will create an iconic campus space for the MSSD and strengthen the relationship to the existing campus buildings. A large living room on the ground floor is the social heart of the project, providing students with a comfortable domestic space to gather, watch TV, play games or study. Adjacent to the living room, a large kitchen provides a place for students to learn to cook for themselves. Just outside, the new courtyard green provides space for gathering and outdoor instruction and a rain garden makes the storm-water cycle legible for teachers and students. The building steps with the site topography to reduce its apparent height and allow for seamless connection between inside and out.
The upper floor living areas are planned with a careful attention to privacy but also to the need for adult supervision. The L shaped double loaded corridors allow a single staff member to have total visual control over the floor. Lounge spaces on each floors are located to take advantage of great views of the city and large communicating stairs connect floors and create a visual connection to campus.
DEAFSPACE AND GALLAUDET
From 2012 to 2017 I was part of a design team that has been working with the Gallaudet University DeafSpace Project and Campus Architect Hansel Bauman to develop and implement a series of guidelines for the design of environments for deaf individuals. Developed through a rigorous examination of Deaf culture this document defines for the first time the principles of DeafSpace.
The document is organized around the Linguistic, Cognitive and Cultural sensibilities associated with deaf ways of being and seeks to define a series of basic design elements and a syntax inspired by and for these sensibilities. For designers, the implications of the design guidelines are significant. Sign language is a visual, spatial and kenetic form of communication that must be considered when designing for deaf individuals. In a visu-centric world, lighting, materials and color can have significant impact on signing legibility and eye fatigue.
Issues of security are paramount in a residence hall for minors and that issue is complicated when the building is occupied and staffed by deaf individuals. Staffing limitations require that all 160 residents can be overseen by a maximum of four round the clock staff. In response, the building is divided into two wings connected by a single story entry foyer. On the ground floor, the main living room and kitchen area is open and free from obstruction and staff offices are located to have visual control over both interior spaces and adjacent exterior spaces. Meanwhile, the foyer acts as a single control point for access to the private living areas.
Once upstairs, students find themselves in single sex ‘L’ shaped wings with 40 beds per wing on each floor. Though the separate wings are close in proximity, their layout prevents direct visual contact between the boys and girls wings except as they climb the stairs and look across the planted roof of the entry lobby.
A Resident Educator station is centrally located on each wing positioned for complete visual control of the floor plate. Again, DeafSpace guidelines inform much of the planning of these upper floors.
2018 AIA|DC Presidential Citation in Universal Design
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