dinsdag 3 april 2012


3     North Crown Heights and Prospect Heights are currently subject to gentrification which is a process of urban renewal due to the influx of middle-class into disadvantaged neighborhoods, often displacing poorer residents.
4     It is possible to map gentrification with parameters like ownership rate, monthly gross rent,
5     number of recent in movers and the vacancy rate.
6     We can summarize these parameters with the spatial gentrification index where we can see a shift from west to east.
7    This west-to-east movement is the result of the spill-over effect in Park Slope in the west and the presence of historic districts in the east, which are know to be very attractive to first-wave gentrifiers. According to newspapers and blogs we can say that Franklin Avenue is the current border of this gentrification wave.
8     SITE
9     My site is located between Franklin Avenue and the historic districts at a leftover of the intersection of two different orientated grids. It is fair to say that this place and its surroundings will change vastly in the next couple of years because of the gentrification.
11   The name of this leftover is Grant Square.
13   Although it doesn't like it today, Grant Square was once an important place in Brooklyn. Not due to the formalistic intersection of 2 long roads but because of the importance of these roads.
16   Neighborhoods like Crown Heights are still very community oriented because of their extensive unofficial economy as a result of their quite disadvantaged situation. First wave gentrifiers are known for there involvence in art so simply said, the area's focus will change in the couple of years from community to art, to the degree that gentrification increases.
17   I want to design a building that can act like a mirror for its surroundings: it has no exclusive program. It must be able to carry programs like leisure, a library and a community center today and programs like micro-conventrion center, exhibition center and creative industry center tomorrow. And everything in between tonight... These programs are just examples of possible occupations.
18   Which architectural language is able to satisfy these extreme flexible needs? The combination of Adolf Loos' Raumplan and Le Corbusier's Plan Libre offers me the possibility of very flexible functional places and very expressive spaces. The Raumplan can be the Plan Libre's expressive circulation, for example when the building is a big library.
19   Two additional staircase and elevator shafts create the possibility to divide the bulding also vertically. A couple of Plan Libre floors can be linked with a large Raumplan space, for example architecture offices around their lobby.
20   The combination of two styles of architecture and two staircases is able to adapt to many programs. One can say that the building is pure architecture, ready to meet any program.
22   Grant Square is formed by one busy road and one quiet one.
23   I redirect the quiet road in order to create a square. The yellow is the building's site.
24  The building's volume is the result of its neighbors. Its depth as well as its height are aligned with them.
27  This building is nowadays an elderly home but it was once the home of a very important Republican club, known as the Union League Club. They are also the ones who build the General Grant statue. The building used to have a small tower.
28  I propose to rebuild this or a modern small tower in order to regive the building and the square its historic importance appearance. I follow by giving my building a modern equivalent.
29  The Raumplan and Plan Libre in the 3D volumetry.
30  Grant Square and the volume
31  Ground floor
32  I lay a 6 feet grid (the largest office standard grid) on the building site and square.
33  The below ground level.
34  The placement of the staircases in the darkest part of the volume, the center.
35  The Raumplan spaces, entirely accessible with the left staircase.
36  The Plan Libre floors around both staircases ànd the Raumplan.
37  This is an impression of the facade, due to a lack of time it's quite ugly but it's about the idea of the Raumplan vs the open plan in the facade, together with the square.
38  The square consists of three L-shaped surfaces, dividing the square into different places. Grass, trees and benches fill some of the squares of the grid between the L's. Two existing bus stops are replaced.
39  The L-shaped surfaces accentuate the square's neighbor's entrances. The L-shape surface returns inside the Raumplan spaces of my building.
40  We begin our walk through the building in the lobby.The brounish area south of the lobby area are shops, ateliers or other more public functions.
41  A double-heigh space welcomes you and guides you to the first floor but we go right, to the underground level.
42  The gray area is a double heigh big room, also free accessible with a ramp next to the building. The brownish area serves as technical space, storage, ...
43  A big window seperates the lobby and the big room.
44  We now follow the ramp to the first floor...
45  ..where we enter the cube.
46  The left image shows a small library on moment t1: the open plan space is linked with the cube which serves as a reading room.  The cube is closed from the next Raumplan space. The right image shows moment t3 where the entire Raumplan space serves as one long exhibition space.
47  The curved stair is based on SANAA's big curved stair in the Kunstlinie in Almere. The vertical rise in the cube supports the spatial experience of the space.
48  The next Raumplan room is the auditorium. you can see that all the Raumplan spaces are accessible from the left stair case, and that the open plan spaces are connectable to the Raumplan. For example, the right open plan space can be the auditorium's changing room in case of a theatre etc.
50  The auditorium is located on the north side of the building in order to give the open plan under the auditorium more sunlight and create an extra spatial experience in this quite dark part of the building by heading towards the bright light while climbing the auditorium and therefore experience the increasinlgy lower ceiling.
51  The auditorium's steps are quite deep, like OMA's Kunsthal in Amsterdam, able to adapt to various programs.
52  We continue the walk through the Raumplan space. The 26 m long small hallway focuses on the open square while feeling compressed by the relatively low ceiling.
54  The last roof is a big cuboid, mostly surrounded by windows, giving a great view of the building's surroundings. The open plan area can serve, for example as a kitchen if the cuboid houses a bar.
55  The room is connected with the roof terrace.
56  Two different potential programs: a bar on t1 and the last part of the exhibition on t2.
57  The entire project as a last impression.

vrijdag 24 februari 2012


Grant Square revisited: design of a flexible hybrid in gentrifying Crown Heights

Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are in constant change. Crown Heights is no exception as it is subject to gentrification. Next in the wave is Grant Square, a triangular leftover from the intersection of two grids with different orientations. Although the square was once one of the most prestigious spots in Brooklyn, it is nowadays up for a revision. The design of an adjacent hybrid building can play an active role in the transformation of the neighborhood since the building has no exclusive program. The combination of two different types of spaces -open and closed- creates opportunities for alternative social and urban dynamics. Its flexibility is not conceived as characterless floors:  architecturally defined spaces can host various programs, able to adapt to various needs as gentrification continues. From community center, school, library, theater, and offices to micro-convention, art and exhibition center. Flexibility remains possible within each compartment, without letting one function obstruct another, on the contrary: intensifying the contrast will give the building its appeal.

woensdag 8 februari 2012


2)            “The street is dead.”, with this sentence, Koolhaas draw me in the world of public, private, collective, and shared spaces, places, spheres, realms, and domains. We tend to think that the public space fulfills an important role in increasing the ‘social cohesion’ in society because in philosophical discussions the public sphere is the place where society is formed or at least the arena where the collective will is formed with regards to the future of society. This is because it is so to say the sphere where we encounter the proverbial ‘other’ and where we must relate to ‘other’ behavior, ideas and preferences. 
3)            This theoretical thinking exercise is very relevant to the current situation in north Crown Heights. Although neighborhoods constant change, the arriving of young middle class merely white individuals, known as gentrification, creates strong supporters and opponents and therefore tends to divide the current residents. This leads us to my subject, can ‘successful’ public space assist in the social transition of the neighborhood? The core of successful public space lies not so much in the shared use of space with others, let alone in the ‘meeting’, but rather in the opportunities that urban proximity offers a ‘shift’ of perspective. Through the experience of otherness, one’s own casual view of reality gets some competition from other views and lifestyles. However, this shift in perspective is not always pleasant and the pure, politically-correct view of public domain as the Great Fraternization in the public space is not realistic. Not all groups in society will use this public space but the creation of spaces providing opportunities for confrontation with the otherness, a change of perspective, an exchange are nevertheless very valuable for the social cohesion of a neighborhood.  
4)            Gentrification can be mapped with factors like the increase of ownership rate, monthly gross rent and 
5)            the increase of the  number of recent in movers and the decrease of vacancy rate. 
6)            These factors can be mapped with the spatial gentrification index which shows a gentrification wave in east direction. 
7)            This is a very logic movement because Park Slope, west of Crown Heights, is already strongly gentrified while 2 historic districts in crown heights were not so long ago approved. 2 more historic district were recently submitted. Cultural institutions and historic architecture, and especially entire historic districts, serve as a catalyst for first wave gentrification. Although I cannot yet show a more recent gentrification index, blogs like ilovefranklinavenue and articles in newspapers only confirm the process. The RentJuice Index reported that the cost per square foot of residential rentals in Crown Heights rose 18 percent in the last quarter of 2011, the fourth-highest increase in the city. And Census data along Franklin Avenue between Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue shows an increase of the white population between four and twelvefold from 2000 to 2010. 
8)            The site
9)            The site where I want to design a public space and a building is logically  located between the current ‘border’ of the gentrification wave, Franklin Avenue, and the future zone, the historic districts. An interesting point is the crossing of the 2 grids because they cross at a square and squares have more potential of becoming a destination than streets.
10)         The crossing streets are  Bedford Avenue and Rogers Avenue.
11)         They cross at Grant Square. Currently a ‘park’ according to the New York’s department of parks and recreation.
12)         This is a south to north view.
13)         A west to east view.
14)         And a south-east to north-west view.
15)         Design Program. My goal is short said to design a public space and a hybrid building that can be destinations for the new and current residents of north Crown Heights and thus can assist in the experience of the ‘otherness’ and so helping creating a common identity.
16)         The green is open space you see, is open space. Only parks and sports fields. No squares. When there is a market of neighborhood party, streets are closed off. This is no problem but why not creating a square which is always available for these events? Open and central , not sealed off like sports fields usually are.
17)         1 of the 2 streets forming Grant Square is a relatively busy road but the other has the potential of becoming a shared surface street. This concept is built on the equality of the street users. Studies have shown that it is safer because people drive slower due to the shared use. Blind people have a disadvantage due to the removal of the curb but other tools can fix that. In case of for example a market, the shared space is more easy to close and the created ‘pedestrian only’ space is, due to the entire flat surface, a much more comfortable area because you don’t have the temporary character you have with a closed street.
18)         First wave gentrifiers are often artists and the designing of a design center can therefore be an interesting program for the hybrid building. These photos are of the design center de Winkelhaak in Antwerp which is very successful. The concept is to offer fully equipped offices and more for the ‘creative business’. You can rent offices of all sizes, whether or not shared, for as long or short as you want. An exhibition space is also present. It is the perfect ‘incubator’ for small and young offices.
19)         The area of Grant Square is a blind spot of community centers although it is a great place for this type of program. And especially for my design goal.
20)         The biggest disadvantage of gentrification is the replacement of economic weaker current residents.  Subsidized housing can help some of them. Encouraging home ownership also supports economic self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and community pride.
21)         Summarized, I have made a design for Grant Square as a shared space and a hybrid building containing a design center, a community center and subsidized housing. By combining them in a complex way, I tried to create interesting crossings between programs and users.
22)         You can see the new Grant Square in the middle and the hybrid building on the right. The glass surfaces house the design center, the wood the community center and the concrete surface houses the dwellings. The façade facing the square is at the same height as his neighbor, a retirement home. While the façade facing the neighborhood street is one level lower where he meets its neighbor. The ground floor houses the exhibition space. 
23)-31)       Plans and sections    
32)             Thesis Content 

zondag 25 december 2011


Public place is in an existential crisis due to the technological development that is responsible for the disappearance of collective clusters which were inherent to the traditional communities. 

Many contemporary ideas about public places are born out of a nostalgic feeling in which a geographically group of people expresses their bond on a social, political and economic way at these places (squares, parks). But this nostalgia is too romantic, preventing the development of ideas about public place. History shows us that there has never been public places where everybody was welcome and could participate in the social, political or economic network of a community. 

Even the Greek-Roman Forum, a beloved example of great public space, was only accessible for free men. And the great 19th century parks were only accessible for the bourgeoisie.

Certain groups of people have been always excluded from these public forums. Social revolutions in the 20th century have liberated these groups and tolerance towards 'more strange' behavior in the public realm was propagandized. In addition, the growing individualization and cocooning in the 20th century (mass-consumption, pop-culture) let to the 'evacuation of the public realm' by the middle and high class. Less 'eyes on the street' (Jane Jacobs) let to a growing feeling of insecurity which let to the privatization of public place.
I think the misconception about public place is the difference between the geographically bond and the social, economic and/or political bond that people have.
That's why 
1) it's not strange that the middle class gave up these public forums and that the mall would became their collective realm. There are rules of conduct and the exclusion of certain groups. Becoming a consumer instead of a civilian, is a price they are willing to pay.
2) critics who say that malls are bad because they keep shoppers away from downtowns; they change people's perception of public space into consumer space; they prevent social, economic and political intervention between people due to a lack of social, economic and political diversity, peculiar to a traditional city (nostalgia!) are not entirely right. 

Then there is the increasing Disneyfication of the city due to the economic importance of mass tourism which leads to 'urban safaris'. The public realm is now a historic attraction designed to be consumed. The once excluded groups of people are excluded again.

There are no real public places, only collective places. Different types of people are excluded in these different collective places. But they are successful in their own way! And that's no coincidence.

This leads to my project statement. There is no standard public place, only different types of collective places. If we want to restore a social, economic and political interaction between civilians this has to be done by creating an interaction of these collective places. The urbanization of collective places (Solà Morales).


For most of human history we lived in small tribal groups of 50 to 250 people and at instinctual level we still crave bonds to people outside our immediate families. It is psychological nourishing to feel connected to those we live among, not necessarily as close friends but as acquaintances with whom we can enjoy a regular chat. We have a built-in, probably biologically rooted, need to live in proximity with a tribe, working and celebrating cooperatively within a geographically neighborhood.

A chain of technological changes through the 20th century gave us less and less reason to leave our homes. Cars, telephone, Internet and many more inventions transformed our daily life to a point where many people wonder if we need public space at all. 

Now we are rediscovering the street, the square, the park, the market etc are essential to our well-being. The lifeblood of nearly every community is a congenial local point where you can sit down with friends and neighbors to pass the time and find out what's going on.

The cultural and democratic life of a city depends on viable public space, it creates a strong sense of community and pride. It is essential to capture the essence of place and create identity by making a big deal of what's unique.

The public square is where the community gathers for its civic, cultural and social functions.
It gives identity to the city. 4 keywords for successful public space: accessibility, activities, comfort, sociability.

The clay model represents the central spot of such a public place. It is not a design statement, on the contrary.




This presentation is about the site Crown Heights, and in this analysis, we are exploring the grid. During our analysis we have seen a potential to improve the livability of the grid. That’s why we asked ourselves some questions related to these topics.

Our first approach was to define the borders of Crown Heights, between which we collected all kinds of data. But after a while we came to the conclusion that neighborhoods that are located in the grid don't have specific borders. The aspects that form these borders can change in a very short period of time. That is why we changed our area of analysis to a larger area, including parts of adjacent neighborhoods such as East Flatbush, Brownsville, Prospect Heights and Bed-Stuy.

Presentation made by Antrees Engelen, Koen Moesen, Pieter Van den Poel, Arnout Van Soom, and Sofie Verjans.

donderdag 13 oktober 2011


I wanted to test the anonymity in the public realm by saying hello to everybody I passed. Just saying hello, not asking a question because the people themselves had to start the conversation if they wanted. This action made me feel like an idiot because most people ignored me or looked very strange at me. I was expecting this because I broke the rules of behavior in the public space. Some people started a conversation with me which was the purpose and the outcome of my experiment. The most conversations were about the Jews and African Americans in Crown Heights. The most interesting outcome is the telephone number of a Crown Heights newspaper editor who is the son of a Rabbi I spoke with. The Rabbi said I could call his son anytime for articles and other information about Crown Heights. This telephone number is the outcome of my experiment (and available on request).

donderdag 8 september 2011


I have read the books below to try to understand contemporary New York City. The borough of Brooklyn has a special place in this huge city for numerous of reasons. I first wanted to focus on The Navy Yard (http://www.brooklynnavyyard.org/index.html) but Red Hook has an even more interesting waterfront and neighborhood identity.

Like Andy Vernon-Jones says in his video, Red Hook is surrounded by water by three sides and is cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by a Highway. The city subway system doesn’t go to there. This isolation had caused its problems in the neighborhood but has also helped develop a unique, poetic character.

Red Hook Waterfront warehouses still make up much of the neighborhood. To the east lays one of Brooklyn’s largest public housing projects, the Red Hook Houses. 

The Gowanus Canal borders Red Hook in the east. It has a rich history but was last dredged in 1955. The growth of containerization in the early 1960s meant the loss of many jobs and with the failure of the city sewage and pump station infrastructure along the canal, Gowanus was used as a dumping place for many years. In 1975, the City of New York established a Gowanus Industrial Renewal Plan for the area until the year 2011.

The once thriving industrial area is filled with repurposed remnants of Brooklyn’s history. Old stone factories have been converted into performance spaces and artist studios. Historic bridges combine the banks across the calm and smelly canal. Low real estate costs allow for gentrification so new cafes, restaurants and galleries can pop up all the time and make it into a cultural hot spot. It is a perfect place for a research in neighborhood development.


The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn by Suleiman Osman is an excellent book about the origin of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods. Middle-class townhouse renovators invented the term Brownstone Brooklyn in the early 1970s to describe an amorphous belt of 19th and early 20th century housing and industrial buildings surrounding the borough’s central business district. They were hard pressed to find any historic neighborhood in maps in archives. Clear neighborhood borders in Brooklyn never existed: from the moment developers laid down the 19th century street grid, labels were always elastic and contested.
Brownstone Brooklyn before gentrification was not a premodern gemeinschaft with aging Brahmins and Old World ethnics shielded from mass consumer culture. No authentic communities or traditional neighborhoods sat ready to be discovered –or, alternatively, destroyed- by young urban professionals (yuppies). Brownstone Brooklyn offered a rich sense of place and history. But it was a landscape that was perpetually changing, fluid, polycentric and hybrid.

The small sandstone fronted row houses gave the area a particular sense of place. Rather than high-rises or single-tract homes found in the rest of the borough, Brooklyn’s Victorian brownstone cityscape with its rows of trees, stoops and smaller street block became the template for a new romantic urban ideal. Because no great architectural vision underlay the design of Brownstone Brooklyn, they varied from Federalist, Greek Revival, Neo-Gothic, Italianate and Queen Anne. The result was an inconsistent and colorful mishmash. Also its antiquated manufacturing sector, an incredible diverse collection of small firms, had a colorful international waterfront culture with about 200 piers.

Brownstone Brooklyn’s hardscape alone did not provide a sense of place for the new middle-class. When new arrivals described the area’s authenticity, they referred not just to its array of brownstones and apartments or assortment of lofts and piers, but also to its people. It was a social web of personal relationships, ethnic diversity and religious lines.

There is clearly much more to say but in short, this book is about gentrification, the creation of a sense of community, the cultivation of a sense of place, bottom-top and back-to-the-city movement, a new urban romanticism, and more in a Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood like Brooklyn Heights.

Osman, Suleiman, “The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn”, New York, Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011, p20, 27, 28, 34



Everybody has read Delirious New York with their own subject in mind. Because Brownstone Brooklyn has been/is threatened by Manhattanization, I wanted to get a clear idea of what this means. Rem Koolhaas celebrates Manhattan’s culture of congestion but Brooklyn is not Manhattan. The threat of Manhattan has even created Brooklyn’s neighborhood culture. Here are some quotes written about Manhattan but of which some also could be applicable to Brooklyn.
“All the blocks are the same; their equivalence invalidates all the systems of articulation and differentiation that have guided the design of traditional cities. The Grid makes the history of architecture and all previous lessons of urbanism irrelevant. It forces Manhattan’s builders to develop a new system of formal values, to invent strategies for the distinction of one block from another.”
“In terms of urbanism, this indeterminacy means that a particular site can no longer be matched with any single predetermined purpose. From now on each metropolitan lot accommodates –in theory at least- an unforeseeable and unstable combination of simultaneous activities, which makes architecture less an act of foresight than before and planning an act of only limited prediction. It has become impossible to ‘plot’ culture.”
“’What is the modern spirit in art?’ No one knows. It is something toward a lot of people are groping and in the course of this groping interesting and amusing things should be developed.”
“For truly, there should be no end to circulation.”
“Facts wear, reality is consumed. The acropolis disintegrates the Parthenon is collapsing due to ever-escalating frequency of tourists’ visits. As the big toe of a saint’s statue gradually disappears under the onslaught if his devotees’ kisses, so the Big Toe of reality dissolves slowly but inexorably under perpetual exposure to the continuous Kiss of mankind. The higher the density of civilization –the more metropolitan it is- the higher the frequency of the Kiss, the faster the process of consumption of the reality of nature and artifacts. They are worn out so rapidly that the supply is depleted. That is the course of the Reality Shortage.”

Koolhaas, Rem, “delirious new york”, New York, The Monacelli Press, 1994, p20, 85, 126, 241


In a first attempt to approach the contemporary city, I read S,M,L,XL by Rem Koolhaas. This book contains a lot of interesting point of views which definitely will inspire me further on. I’ll post all my notes in a pdf but here are some interesting quotes:
“Since the recent rediscovery of the street as the core of all urbanism, the simplest solution to this complex and ambiguous condition is to undo the ‘mistakes’ of the 1950s and 60s and to build once again along the plot lines of streets as a sign of a regained historical consciousness. This approach restores the grid, respectfully connects new buildings with the old, and attempts to hide most of the postwar buildings in an effort to render harmless the mistaken ideologies of the past from decades. But it is important to resist that temptation, to avoid becoming part of a mindless pendulum movement where the acceptance of one particular architectural doctrine leads to the adaption of its exact opposite a few years later: a negative sequence in which every generation ridicules the previous one only to be annulled by the next. The effect of such a yes-no-yes sequence is antihistorical in that it condemns the discourse of architecture to become an incomprehensible chain of disconnected sentences.”
“The ambition of this project (Très Grande Bibliothèque, Paris) is to rid architecture of responsibilities it can no longer sustain and to explore this new freedom aggressively. It suggests that, liberated from its former obligations, architecture’s last function will be the creation of the symbolic spaces that accommodate the persistent desire for collectively.”  
“If there is to be a ‘new urbanism’ it will not be based on the twin fantasies of order and omnipotence; it will be the staging of uncertainty; it will no longer be concerned with the arrangement of more or less permanent objects but with the irrigation of territories with potential; it will no longer aim for stable configurations but for the creation of enabling fields that accommodate processes that refuse to be crystallized into definitive form; it will no longer be about meticulous definition, the imposition of limits, but about expanding noxious, denying boundaries, not about separating and identifying entities, but about discovering unnamable hybrids; it will no longer be obsessed with the city but with the manipulation of infrastructure for endless intensification and diversifications, shortcuts and redistributions – the reinvention of psychological space. Since the urban is now pervasive, urbanism will never again be about the ‘new’, only about the ‘more’ and the ‘modified’". (1994)
Koolhaas, Rem, “S,M,L,XL”, New York, The Monacelli Press, 1997, p259, 604, 969