Roosevelt Island Housing Competition


Given the Particular Conditions of the Roosevelt Island housing design competition: historical (economic/politico-ideological), contextual (New York, principal city of the nation) and concurrent (the present period in architectural history) - we have considered that the program requirements could not be simply answered, as was the case in the majority of proposals submitted. Some of these proposals reflected and "improved" existing reality (ideology) in the area of housing; others outlined cultural (regressive) or technological (progressive) utopias. Briefly, these are the traditional alternatives of architectural utopias. We, on the other hand, decided that the competition ought to be treated as a pretext to considering a series of questions concerning the housing problem. In this regard, our project is to be considered as part of the more general work of reflection on architectural ideology, that is, on the problem of production of sense in building design and construction. Housing design in particular allows us to begin study of this problem through the opposition of architecture versus housing. This opposition is based on a principle of the modern movement which somewhat expressed the contrary position: a new architecture could originate from new construction systems and from new programs, among them housing. The historical effectiveness of this principle as one of the means which permitted creation of a new formal repertoire is unquestionable. However, housing materialized as a symbolically neuter construction where emphasis on aspects of production was dominant, while the symbolic aspects were subjugated. This fact leads to the current impasse in which instead of creation of a "new architecture", an option has been created in which each term excludes the other: architecture or housing. The ideological effect of this option is still concealment of the nature of the symbolic function of architecture and the specific political determinations of this practice. Because the problem of significance is rooted in the articulation of a form-space logic system developing historically within the culture, and because architecture has always been at the disposal of the dominant class, housing (by definition, for the masses, built to be used by the dominated class) is not part of the symbolic monopoly controlled by architects for the dominant class. Architecture - by definition, bourgeois - does not provide us with an ideology or adequate techniques for confronting the problems posed by housing. If, instead of the traditional alternative of "housing as monument" versus "housing as a symbolically neuter construction", housing were thought of as one of the dominant symbolic entities of the constructed world, things would change. This approach to the housing problem is possible on the condition that architectural ideology be shifted toward a new problem in which design and reading, as functions of production and transformation of significance of the constructed world, play a fundamental role. In our proposal the shift is effected by introduction into the design of formal vocabularies and functions furnished by "architecture of the city" (that is to say, of a production not completely controlled by architectural codes but rather subject to extra-architectural determinants, to "other" logic systems of production of meaning). In design as well as in reading the meaning is derived from linked fragments rather than from a "content adherant to a form".

In design, the operations are closer to transcription, juxtaposition and transformation than to invention. Transcription transfers existing typologies. Examples of this operation are apparent in the variation of facades on Main Street (in our project they transcribe the variation of facades in the city), the townhouses, the waterfront, the towers, the "setback", etc. Examples are also evident in the transcription of architectural fragments such as Mies' "curtain wall" or Le Corbusier's "fenetre en longuer". Juxtaposition appears in a logic system in which the fragments act as neuter elements in counterpoint to the articulations which come to play a principal role. In this sense, and in terms of linking between fragments, public areas occupy a fundamental role. Public areas weave through and are continually blended with the dwellings, as in townhouse stairs, streets, belvederes, etc. The wall itself is mounted on a street. Transformation allows the creation of elements which add new meaning to the original meaning. Examples of this process are apparent in the transformation of towers into colonnades (towers such as those of Sixth Avenue for instance), of the highrise into wall, of the typical brownstone or townhouse into another type of lowrise housing which is simultaneously transformed into terraced dwellings. These, in conjunction with the towers in colonnade, give us the typical setback configuration of New York skyscrapers. The total ground plan is a transformation originating in the typical "manhattan block" where the avenues are "wall" or "towered buildings" such as in Central Park West; brownstones are build on sidestreets between the avenues. Regarding the reading, our design attempted to include curtain reading clues to permit consideration of an alternative to the traditional concept of meaning in architecture. Instead of a single meaning, a content inherent to the object, would now be completely metaphorical, an expression of a program or realization of a formal system (that is to say, some variations on the traditional restriction of meaning), we attempt here to pose the problem of dispersion of meaning and the problem of production of meaning as open significant linkages. Our project is to be viewed as an attempt to organize the dispersion. We purpose to form a dialectic between the ideological tendency to simplify the sense (to enclose it completely in metaphors) and the opportunity to eventually move away from this reading to multiple readings. Therefore, elements would exist which "transcend" the single sense, opening it to other senses. One such element is the tower which is detached from the wall and exposes the structure, it is one of the elements which opens up the reading of "housing as a temple" to the city. A dialogue is thus created between monument and city, architecture and housing, where housing under the urban logic system may even be read as a megamonument, recovering in another dimension the architecture it had been denied. To this urban architecture of towers, wals, streets, etc., have been added and incorporated formal structures originating in modern and classical architecture.

Year: 1975
New York City
New York, New York

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