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