The Cooper Union
School of Architecture

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Professors Kevin Bone, Christoph a. Kumpusch, Mersiha Veledar, and Lebbeus Woods

The rectilinear grid, in many variants, is an organizing geometric figure in cities around the world. Manhattan is perhaps the most famous of these because the grid dominates its plan, but cities whose growth is as separated in culture and time as Barcelona and Beijing also employ it in their plans. It is fair to say that this type of grid, consisting of a street pattern forming rectilinear blocks for buildings, is a proto-urban condition, one that operates abstractly, that is, without particular reference to other cultural practices or traditions.

One important aspect of this condition is the street, which is straight in plan, intersected at right angles by regularly spaced streets, and defined vertically by the walls of buildings filling the blocks. This aspect of the urban grid was the focus of our work this semester. We explored the potential of street walls as sites for architecture and diverse programs for its inhabitation.

The work progressed in several stages:

1) the construction of a master model of a prototypical urban grid street condition (entire class)
2) the selection of sites on the street walls (each student)
3) the design of spaces and structures on, through, and between the individual sites (each student)
4) the completeion of the master model with individual projects (each student, entire class)

As a preliminary exercise, students worked in pairs designing an interacting pair of projects on a chosen section of the given street walls.

The context of a community is crucial to creating a truly urban architecture. In this case, the community we were analyzing and designing for was our own, with its common interests and goals for architecture, but also with the differences of our highly individual interpretations. Through the course of the semester, students worked in groups on the master plan and model, and individually on their separate projects, weaving them together into a dense urban fabric through continual encounters and negotiations. The result is at the same time an analogy of the way actual cities work and a utopian vision of architecture.