Saturday, August 17, 2013

Interpreting urban form and making connections

For several days during the MDS intensive students experienced the dense urban landscape of Boston and Cambridge. My intention was to provide an exercise in observation and a chance to stimulate people's imagination. Boston is like nowhere else in the United States and our crowded, sometimes cranky old city has seen many iterations of growth, decay, design and re-design. It is some of these layers, what George Hargreaves would call the urban "palimpsest," that I want my students to detect. 

We are lucky to live in a city that is densely built and densely used. Our transportation-rich environment provides a high degree of mobility and connectedness, so that our geographical area, physically contained in any case, seems smaller because of our ability to get around in it. Students were also impressed with the cluster of amenities in our immediate environment, ranging from gardens and museums to universities, restaurants, and of course Fenway Park. 

So yesterday as I visited the student groups who were preparing their final presentations I was struck by one groups's approach. They decided to hang their "sustainability" hat on the concept of "connectedness." Their approach to site design was based on the connections within the site, as well as connections between the site and the dense urban fabric within which it's embedded. I found this to be a refreshing and creative approach. What's more, I was amazed when the students related their concept to the work they did with zometools. 

During our Zometool exercise this group built clusters of clusters meant to represent the densely-packed connectivity of an urban space. They interpreted their space to go beyond just the physical space of the city. Their clusters came to represent communications, information, and social networks in the city. An amazing "connection" between concept, model, and plan. 

This is an excellent example of the kind of meta-conceptual work our students can perform in the deeply engaging and interactive learning environment of the intensive. Great work you guys!

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