By 2030, New York City is projected to be home to 9.1 million inhabitants. Given the rigidities of the city's natural and built topographies, New York will have to undergo a hyper-densification to accommodate its growing populace. But what's to happen when the existing networks of infrastructure and housing have reached their maximum capacity? "After the Street", an 'Experiments in Motion' studio sponsored by Columbia University GSAPP and Audi of America, charged eight students to develop an answer to this very problem. Recent grads Mengyi Fan and Marc Moukarzel responded by looking to the street to find the city's great "unexploited building space"--where they think the next step in New York's (inward) expansion will unfold.
From its assassination by Le Corbusier to its later resurrection by Jane Jacobs and subsequent shirking by Robert Moses, the street--that erstwhile urban "corridor", "artery", "thorough way" according to which metropolitan life is oriented and activated--has occupied a central role in the polemics and design of the future city. Yet Fan and Moukarzel's proposal neither replicates the "violence" of the Modernists (or at least, that of its colorful language), nor the quaint fabricated stage sets of their pomo successors. Instead, the project references the hallucinogenic, neon-tinged city-worlds of Philip K. Dick novels and their subsequent film adaptations (see this year's "Total Recall"), borrowing from them their impossibly dense and layered networks of buildings and infrastructure.
"Beyond the Street" presents a new strategy for density through a "multiplication of the street", one suspended above the ground plane yet horizontally stratified so as to create all new, fully articulated urban spaces. That is to say, spaces not just for vehicular and pedestrian circulation, but places to foster new urban experiences. Fan and Moukarzel liken this stratification to Rem Koolhaas's case studies in Delirious New York which investigated the sectional eclecticism contained within the formal body of the skyscraper, a spatial development made possible only by the elevator and the vertical dimension it opened up. This technological leap in building design "led to the relationship between the reproduction of floor slabs and the juxtapositive nature of the programs on each floor". "If the street is approached in a similar way", the duo write, "how can its identity be reinforced through juxtaposition and reproduction?"
The designers proposed pulling the street apart and compressing it into new "sandwiched" structures that could be inserted into the gaps between adjacent buildings. These would be balanced atop thin armatures anchored at ground level, minimizing their footprint and, thus, allowing the street to fulfill its more traditional function of moving cars and people.
Still, the relationship of street to storefront will have changed significantly, with existing infrastructure combined with new programs and circulation cores to ensure points of access to the blocks above. It follows, then, that the nature of the street would be irrevocably altered, but also made to adapt to the specific needs of its users.
"If the block is deemed as private ownership, then the street is a communal relationship. If the scenario is explored as a masterplan with many collaborators, then it could also convey a new rethinking of zoning laws. As an incentive, owners and developers give back street space to build or expand into it. It is not just an incentive, it also creates new social spaces and improves quality of life on a scale relative to the multiplicity of the street."
Fan and Moukarzel envision these opportunistic structures to accommodate start-ups, creative agencies, and artist studios on the cheap. They would also contain residential clusters, shops, and cultural venues, not to mention public parks (think the High Line)--all diverse environments that would enrich the fabric of New York's celebrated urbanscape.
See more of the project here, or browse on to Experiments in Motion for more on the studio. Plus, head over to the "Imagining the Lowline" exhibition (September 15-27) in the Lower East Side, where Experiments in Motion have installed a 50-foot model of Manhattan that charts the future of mobility latent within the city's substructure.