Final presentation for Bodies & Buildings. Text below and presentation on Prezi.
Breaking down ego by building living parking garages.
The problem is one of ego. Buildings must be tall, bold, strong beyond their intended use, and they must be permanent. The longevity of a building becomes a reflection of personal worth: a building that stands eternally is a form of immortality. The current paradigm is that buildings should last forever.
Architecture driven by ego creates waste and perpetuates unrealistic expectations. All things eventually reach the end of their useful life. Buildings are no different, so why do we treat them differently? Why can’t we accept that a building, too, will die?
Instead of fighting against the inevitable end, we can use this fact to our advantage. Embrace it, incorporate it into architectural vision, and generate positive externalities.
Individuals develop emotional attachment to buildings, especially those they live in, have created, or idolize. But they are only things, after all.
This cultural mindset, the attachment we have to things, is difficult to change. In an attempt to work around this issue, the first points of intervention should be purely functional buildings: parking garages, bus depots, and similar structures.
This solution begins by leveraging two physical intervention points: the parameters that define lifecycle: acknowledging that an end exists and working to close the materials loop; and the types of physical structures and materials.
These leverage points are low on the list but intervening here initially will allow for intervention at higher points as the project progresses eventually: changing the rules of the system by developing incentives for considering end of life; modifying goals to include flexibility, low environmental impact, and healthful effects; and, eventually, shifting the way we think about the permanence of a building.
It is easier to understand the inevitability of death when talking about something that has life. A building, perceived as inanimate, has no life and, therefore, no death. Creating living buildings allows for a more natural integration of the idea of end of life. Existing structures can be retrofitted, and new structures built, using living components.
Living buildings serve practical, as well as philosophical, purposes. Trees & plants remove C02 from the air and improve the health of cities. One tree can remove 26 pounds of CO2 each year, which is about 11,000 miles of car emissions. In New York, air pollution is a significant environmental threat, contributing to approximately 6% of deaths annually. New York, a city defined by progress and change, plagued with environmental concerns and traffic, is an ideal location for intervention.
The City owns and operates 10 public parking garages, 33 public parking fields, and presumably dozens of additional facilities to house the 26,000 vehicles in its fleet. The Office of Pupil Transportation operates 2,300 school buses, which have to park somewhere. Then there’s the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the George Washington Bridge Bus Station where hundreds of buses owned by private companies begin and end their trips.
In ten years, these parking structures will have been retrofitted to incorporate living elements such as green screens to create growing walls, living roof components, and systems for rainwater collection and reuse, to list just a few possibilities.
In addition to garages operated by the City, there are numerous privately owned and operated parking structures throughout the five boroughs. Some are small operations but others, like Icon Parking, operate hundreds of garages. The City could partner with these companies to encourage similar practices.
These efforts will make the living building a part of New York’s façade. Citizens will begin to see buildings as a way to support life and increase health. With the understanding that a building is alive comes the understanding that that life will eventually end.
After 50 years, many parking structures built & retrofitted during the initial decade will have reached the end of their useful life. They will have been deconstructed – taken apart by hand, the materials reused or recycled, the plants relocated to parks or other green spaces.
Perhaps some of those buildings will have been permanently dismantled and the land put to other use, as public transportation increases and people drive less.
The idea that a building has a lifecycle will have reached beyond the initial point of intervention. New construction of office buildings and even residential spaces will be planned with the end in mind. Homeowners will begin to see a house as the sum of its parts, which can be deconstructed, sold, reconfigured, instead of as something which is fixed. We will begin to loosen our attachment to specific physical structures and will come to value reuse and prioritize environmental health. A building will be judged not by its height or perceived impermeability, but by its flexibility and capacity to support life during its use.
One of the first steps toward achieving this paradigm shift is to create a demonstration project. This project should connect to the PlaNYC air quality initiatives, which intend to “achieve the cleanest air quality of any big U.S. city” and the Plan’s Green Building initiatives. Since 2008, the City has collected and analyzed data on air quality. Sites for demonstration projects should be based on this data: select locations with higher levels of pollution. In addition, a highly visible demonstration site should be selected in order to gauge public opinion and allow the idea of living buildings to enter the public consciousness.
It will be necessary to involve local community groups that work in neighborhoods surrounding the demonstration sites. Support from these groups will help to increase visibility and understanding of the project. It could even be these community groups that encourage the development of a demonstration project by making their requests known to the City.
In an era of growth and rapid change, we know that nothing is permanent. Buildings should reflect this truth. Instead of creating impermeable structures to last an eternity, we should let go of our ego and allow natural elements and the cycle of life and death to guide design and construction. By starting small, incorporating living elements and end of life planning into parking garages, we can begin to change how citizens understand the function of a building. Eventually coming to terms with this mortality.