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
Forest Park is considered the crown jewel of Portland Parks & Recreation’s park system. The 5,200 acre natural area is a major Portland landmark that provides habitat for over 180 species of birds and mammals, offers Portlanders respite from the bustling city, and serves as an outdoor classroom for environmental education and research. This new visitor center will provide a recognizable entry point to the park where visitors can discover information about the Park’s rich ecology and its trails and learn about opportunities to engage in stewardship and education programs.
The two story building will house an exhibit area, offices, a community “living room”, two classrooms, restroom facilities and storage areas for Portland Park’s maintenance personnel. Exterior features include parking, public plaza, a covered pavilion and an accessible interpretive trail. Given its mission the project has prioritized a small ecological footprint. Storm water will be collected in a cistern and/or treated on-site. A highly efficient geothermal radiant system has been designed for the mechanical system and the structural system will be cross-laminated timber. In addition, the building is carefully tuned to be bird safe. Large windows are screened with louvers or set back to cut down on confusing reflections and/or the appearance of openness. Bird safe glass is specified throughout.
An important public resource for all of Portland, the building design was informed through extensive community outreach throughout the city. The design team held dozens of meetings and charrettes with community advocates and underrepresented communities. Feedback was solicited on the vision, program and architectural language. As a direct result of these meetings it was determined that, rather than relying on traditional Western ideas about form and language, the architecture should emerge from and be informed by its place. The resulting design is responsive to the challenging site and inspired by the park itself.
Traffic noise is a significant concern on this site. In response, the building itself is conceived as a noise barrier. Positioned on an existing plateau on the site, a tall curved solid wall faces the street. The wall acts as a barrier to noise generated at the street below and shelters the outdoor spaces on the uphill side of the building. This massing creates a quiet eddy for outdoor gatherings and interpretive talks in the plaza. Heavily insulated and virtually free from openings, this barrier wall also shelters the interior gallery and classroom spaces.
The forest facing side of the building is more porous, with multiple entrances and large openings to the plaza and forest. Ultimately, the building is designed to be a part of the forest. Clad of wood and rough cast-in-place concrete, the materials emulate the surroundings. The vertical siding and louvers mimic the forest trees, blurring the edge of the building and the interior and exterior spaces. A vegetated roof, visible from the trails leading up in to the park will be planted with native ground covers.
The Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center is primarily an interpretive center that describes the unique, high-energy particle physics that take place at the newly created Sanford Underground Research Laboratory. The Laboratory itself is located a mile underground in the former Homestake Gold Mine, the largest gold mine in US history, which was decomissioned in the 1990’s. Vast almost beyond comprehension, the mine was the major economic driver for this portion of South Dakota, and its 100-year history is at the heart of the fascinating cultural, political, geological, and mythological stories of the Black Hills since the gold rush. In the 1960’s, the Homestake Mine was also the location of a groundbreaking underground neutrino experiment, the first of its type, which resulted in a Nobel Prize for Physicist Ray Davis. The Visitor Center describes the current science experiments in the context of these larger stories.
Serving also as home for the Lead Chamber of Commerce, the Visitor Center was required to be self-sustaining from proceeds from its gift shop and the regional tours run by the Chamber. As such it needed to be a visible attraction to lure Black Hills tourists off Main Street and into the retail environment.
The historic, physical, and scientific context were important drivers for the architecture. The building is located in an area of town where Lead’s historic fabric of wooden miners’ houses and brick Main Street buildings was literally cleared away to accommodate a late century expansion of the Homestake Mine’s surface portion — a massive open pit mine now referred to as the “Open Cut.” Recent buildings in the immediate vicinity are totally nondescript. The new building takes inspiration from the metal-clad, purpose-built industrial buildings that are the Homestake Mine’s heritage, as well as the techno-inspirational aesthetic of the underground science.
The Visitor Center is entered under a low canopy; the interior space then opens up to dramatic views of the Open Cut. The building’s metallic form is always seen against the jagged exposed geologic backdrop of the Open Cut, and its U-shape cradles a viewing terrace that can be used for special events.
Usually some combination of Sketchup/Rhino/Max with Vray and Photoshop.