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 ( 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

woensdag 7 september 2011


The cultural identity is a quality we want to pass on and develop. It occurs when a society chooses a group solidarity that they define based on shared values and on a common past. It is rooted in a historical sense of continuity and this is best represented by architecture.

So, how can architecture help in creating a sense of belonging?

By investigating what makes an area unique, I want to try enrich future projects with a sense of place. Especially in new neighborhoods in our western culture of mass consumerism is a feeling of authenticity important in becoming a lively community.