Responding to Manhattanville

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Responding to Manhattanville

Barbara Gheno Becker 


The housing projects were done under the courageous believe that the architect could solve social issues by design. There was an utopian attempt in this gesture, which was full of hope and confidence on the architect. This utopia was a critical position towards the existing reality. Not seen as an impossible dream, but as a tangible experimentation encored on real dynamics of a political, social and economical process.

Built to erase the slums, the housing projects were meant to provide sun, air and light into the apartments. Proposed in a time that cities were dangerous and dirty places; where streets were not a desirable place to be. The tower within a park was an attempt to dissolve the city, it was an anti-street manifest that minimized the building/ground relationship.

There is a reversed new utopia of cities being desirable and valuable places. Using Manhattanville housing as object of study my question is: How to expand the possibilities of the contemporary city at the ground level maintaining the achievements of healthy living on the towers?

This intervention amplifies the contact surface of the building with the ground in order to explore the potential of a urban condition that both feeds and generates activities inside the building. The strategy shifts between scales, generated from a human/small and exploding throughout the site. Aiming to convert the anti-city tower within a park typology into a manifest for an alive urban context.

The consequence of the design will promote economical, social and cultural activities at the ground along with the benefits of light and air into the housing apartments. It will also bring financial support to the towers, allowing it’s affordability to be preserved; and revisit the naive and courageous effort of utopian architects position that made the housing projects possible.


Who influences you graphically?

I am always connected to art as graphic and sculpture, I believe that one has to be open and receptive to it in order to translate it into a new interpretation. The influences I use in my work vary, for this one I got excited about the models at the Japanese Constellation exhibition in MOMA, but also the collage drawings by David Hockney, Kersten Geers David Van Severen.

What is the purpose and effect of two different graphic styles?

The drawings are tools to investigate architecture. When I am dealing with a question I try to approach it from different perspectives so that it opens to new and unexpected results. The bright color illustrations were done to understand the scope I was dealing with. The collages are the result and the starting point of the process. The diagram that became key to the design was done by an Etching technique of print making. I believe that the whole process was evolving and each technique informed the other.

How does texture influence the image and subsequently the way the architecture is perceived?

To apply a texture in a flat surface doesn’t imply shadows and it disturbs the sense of perspective. That effect can make the image interact with the viewer into a more particular manner, it’s not a given result it requires the viewer engagement to solve it. Architecture then stays in a between state: the drawing as an end in itself or a mediator to a possible reality.

You chose to represent the inhabitants in black and white, how does this create a sense of detachment to the built environment?

People in images tell a lot about its concept. This project is about bringing people to animate the ground floor of the housing projects by an alive urban context. Therefore people here were taken from pictures made by Helen Levitt, a photographer of New York streets in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. It relates back to the time the housing projects were built, it shows how people used to play, interact in streets.

You seize to explore your proposal through the classic plan section elevation, why so?

The housing projects were done using the standard ways of representation having an unintended result of uneasy feeling of walking by its ground. To overcome and challenge it I couldn’t start by the same process. I started by analyzing the context by means of illustration, then to investigate proposals in small scale by collages, then diagrams that could translate the images; Finally the exploded perspective and plan which were the best way to represent the level of interaction and interdependence of activities inside the buildings with the public space. As the project became mature I could go back to the collages, having the expected result of the first speculative ones. The last representation was the model that informed the large and small scale.

To what extent do the people help in conveying this idea of the promotion of activities rather than the function of the spaces?

The atmosphere of having people activating the space was crucial, the exact function they would be promoting is secondary and mostly important, very ephemeral. The complex of buildings will generate activities that will eventually merge into unexpected ones in the future.




Barbara Becker is a Brazilian architect graduated from UFPR with professional experience in Belgium and a master degree from Parsons in New York in 2016. With speculative and built works in Brazil her interest lies in exploring the drawing as the generator of architecture.



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