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Urban Portrait

What makes a City, a City? What makes it unique and stand apart from others?

With the obvious advantages of density & scale, cities developed over time as the population increased and the mastery of different technologies came about. Discovery of particular resources, historical events or geography shapes the movement of people & development of cities. Technological revolutions enabled development of new tools, methods of organizing/ designing, and fabrication methods.


These often set the perspective through which designers and builders develop the cities that we know today. All of these categories have changed over time, leaving their lasting mark on the future cities. The time point of a cities origin development could lead it to either be on a neatly organized grid allowing for easy navigation throughout (such is seen in places like New York city and Chicago) or could have been designed around geographic restrictions or to easy transport from one key area to another (seen in places like Boston). Of course, there is everything in-between, with places like San Francisco and Atlanta which have shifting grids, a line defect is necessary to shift from say NE-SE to a N-S oriented grid (Atlanta).

The resulting road layouts can be seen in the unique geometry of the plots of land and there for the abstracted shapes that are made up when looking at the layered buildings around a downtown. Repeating shapes are common for a city such as rectangles in positive and negative spaces in grid dominated cities, and wedges and trapezoids in the others. These buildings are not built in a vacuum but are built in the context of the buildings surrounding them. Some have the contrasting designs of new and old (with different relative definitions depending on the age of the city), showing neoclassic architecture next to brutalist or post-modern designs. Often times the designs of the building indicating a time of great growth in a specific city (of which we are currently in one, displaying the great re-urbanization movement). Other times clearly designed to assimilate, reflect or challenge the design philosophy of surrounding buildings.


One key investigation of this project is to highlight how learning/mastering a new material or process is one of the biggest players in shaping the city. Starting from wood and stone work, with rectangles and triangles for supports, then maintaining the general forms but with the new material of steel enabling taller structures, concrete dominance with rectangular form factors still dominating due to molding methods, before reaching glass and curved steel sometimes following bio-mimicry. This project takes up the modern conversation and subjects of the Precisionist(s) (the likes of Charles Sheeler and co) to the next level and not only explores the abstraction of buildings but importantly the continued evolution and role that technology plays in how our cities look and eventually how we live and interact with one another.

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