PROJECT 3: Kathleen+John+Tamika

PROJECT 3 TEAM: John Arroyo, Kathleen Dalhberg, Tamika Gauvin


Our neighborhood design seeks to create a clear series of relationships with the physical and social aspects of the existing neighborhood through a design that is also applicable at a citywide scale. Site location was driven by high vacancy rates typical of infrastructure-intensive adjacent neighborhoods and the presence of the abandoned Central Terminal monument.  The role of the infrastructure –the existing rail line – presented a strong duality. It is a permanent physical form and a force fracturing social and physical stability. Therefore a new neighborhood design presented the opportunity to re-appropriate the architectural significance typical of the former industrial structures and reconfigure the existing vacant land. With these parameters the design identifies and responds to three distinct physical relationships – City Grid/Circulation, Neighborhood Civic Spaces/Monuments, and Existing Fabric/New Massing – each which is complimented by a socially-driven program.

Neighborhood Program

The program is relevant to the population of the neighborhood as well as representative of citywide demographics: Single mothers, senior citizens, and singles of predominantly White and African-American descent. In this instance, the neighborhood design is driven by a program centered on providing critical social services and retail options lacking in the neighborhood and throughout the City of Buffalo. It incorporates existing building stock and housing while creating new, complimentary structures that acknowledge the existing scale and form of both occupied and vacant/underutilized building, including the planning of a Learning Complex on the grounds of Central Terminal.

Theoretically, the program and design is an expanded and adapted version of the 1920s Neighborhood Unit Plan sponsored by the Regional Plan Association, one that serves as the basis for many new neighborhoods. The Neighborhood Unit Plan proposes neighborhoods built around essential civic service. It places a civic service (typically in the form on a school or community center) at the core of the neighborhood and retail in on the perimeters. Our program takes the core principles of the Neighborhood Unit but applies them to a regional, contemporary context. Instead of only serving the immediate neighborhood, our program is designed to serve the city at three different scales: local neighborhood (1/2 mile), regional neighborhoods (within 1 mile), and citywise. A decentralized approach, the program elements are dispersed throughout the neighborhood in primary and secondary streets. They are grouped according to housing that is specifically designed to serve various populations. Within these clusters is a mix of civic services and association.

Neighborhood Design

City Grid/ Circulation: The existing grid is reinforced as a way of maximizing the existing city structure.  Major streets are reinforced as primary public connectors, both vehicular and pedestrian, secondary streets continue to serve as important local vehicular access routes.  This is achieved with massing infill and location of appropriately scaled programs (i.e. large commercial on William St. community oriented on Smith St.).  The grid is dissolved at key public spaces where public surfaces are placed at street level, eliminating the separation created by the typical curb.

Neighborhood Civic Spaces/ Monuments: The neighborhood’s lack of unified service programs and civic gathering space demanded a new set of focal points be created to serve existing and new residents.  Monument as an idea was invoked with a broad interpretation, suggesting that Buffalo’s commemorative symbols should reflect its unique history. Existing monuments, such as the Central Terminal and St. Stanislaus Church, were incorporated as anchoring pieces into proposed civic spaces, and new public amenities were located adjacent to significant connecting roadways, marked with individual monuments. The new monuments included expansive monumental spaces and views into the urban wilderness, and “towers” or buildings whose scale significantly contrasts with the existing fabric.

These monuments serve as both visual and programmatic anchors for local residents and sometimes the citywide scale.  At the local level these spaces offer a navigational framework for circulation between existing and new housing clusters that incorporate essential civic services and retail options for specific user groups.

Existing Fabric/New Massing: Analysis of existing blocks and form revealed clear patterns, which became an important set of parameters for developing a clear and productive relationship between new and existing buildings. These observations were distilled into three major conditions:

1.    Blocks tended to experience the greatest level of vacancy at the commercial edges, often leaving open spaces from 200’-500’ between houses and major roadways, causing isolation from the larger city context.

2.    Existing vacant lots often aligned to create intermediate linking passageways in the long repetitive blocks.

3.    Clusters of more stable owner occupied houses remained strong and identifiable physical forms while often a single standing renter occupied houses were scattered amidst a sea of vacant land.

Our response to these conditions generated a scheme based on strategies that accounted for both the above observations as well as relating to the earlier discussed elements of the city, the grid and monuments. The design strategies are listed corresponding to the numbers above:

  1. Infill massing was placed at most vacant edges to appropriately reinforce existing commercial streets and to frame edges of new civic spaces.
  2. Links were maintained by creation of 20’-40’ wide spaces between new and old housing.  These spaces served as a register of their historic relationship and functionally as a secondary circulation network opening up the fabric and creating new pedestrian and car access to units with frontage onto the linking spaces.
  3. Stable clusters of owner occupied houses were maintained and incorporated into the massing and circulation of the scheme. Through strategies of linking and civic spaces, as well as reinforcing major connecting axis to greater Buffalo (William Street and Filmore Avenue), these houses were given an entirely new framework.

Housing Cluster Design

The housing cluster scale addresses the social and physical concerns  at a finer level, using form and program to drive edge mediation strategies and delineation between private and public spaces.  Each cluster was located based on the larger massing strategies discussed at the neighborhood scale.  The result is three general edge conditions which drive the scale and user group of each housing type and provides complimentary civic services and associated retail options.

Urban edge: Continuous shared wall units (owner or renter) 2-3 stories facing directly onto neighborhood civic space. These units front onto a primary public space, with semi-public courtyard at the interior, where parking is provided. Programmatically these units would most likely serve renters, both low and medium income levels, and could also serve as townhouses if necessary. The public edge is mediated by a stoop with is 30” off grade to create a public/private transition space. Civic services and associated retail options include a teen
center and market.

Interior Edges: Double walled single family or duplex units, 2 stories 2,000-2,400 sf approximately 60’-70’ in width with individual parking and yard, as well as a shared semi-public courtyard.  The massing is meant to mediate between the existing 20’-30’ wide housing dimension and the larger scale of the civic spaces and more public street edges.  These units are primarily for families, to attract a user group that does not currently reside in this area because of sub-standard housing options. According to our demographic analysis, these families are typically comprised of single mothers. The program includes a City of Buffalo Service Center and meal distribution center as well as a pharmacy.

Mediating Pathways: Smaller 1 story houses (approx. 1,200 sf) face onto the linking spaces and provide a mediating edge between old and new housing clusters.  The smaller scale accommodates the needs of the many single mothers populating the area, providing them with parking a small yard, and access to a semi-private courtyard. The program includes a daycare center and discount goods store.

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