Atlas of Future Islands

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Atlas of Future Islands

Jeffrey Burgess, Lane Raffaldini Rubin, Eric Zuckerman_Harvard Graduate School of Design, MArch second year studio [Luis Callejas, critic]


The region of Boston began as an archipelago and, by expanding over the centuries into the sea, consumed many of its islands in order to form a contiguous landmass. When we look into the next century of Boston’s history, we see this process of colonization completely undone: Boston will become a collection of islands once again as the sea overtakes its shores.

If the city is to survive, then it must rediscover how to live as an archipelago. How will its people navigate the space of the water? How will they learn to inhabit islands? Where will the city’s infrastructures anchor themselves?

Housing occupies this new archipelago in South Boston’s Pleasure Bay. In spite of the fact that each of the islands possesses its own form, they are understood together to constitute the larger figure of their continental whole. The water at once separates the islands into distinct landmasses and binds them together into the figure of the archipelago. The water is made up of a series of canals, interior waterways, courts, bays, and ship routes. This network of aquatic spaces is as urbanized as the islands and is enmeshed within the regional patterns of shipping routes and recreational waters of the Boston Harbor. Land and water, therefore, share a relationship not of figure-void but of figure-figure.

Housing units are arrayed primarily in perimeter blocks that create a courtyard and define the identity of each island. Water occupies some courtyards while public gardens occupy others. The housing, by always orienting its entry toward the water where residents dock their boats, establishes different levels of publicness and privateness for these collective spaces that it encloses. Integrated into the front elevation of the housing is a public catwalk that connects the entire island together. This path is supported by structural fins that are themselves the expression of the units’ interior organization. The fins become service cores that accommodate all of the necessary plumbing, circulation, and storage needs of the interior, leaving the remainder of the space flexible and self-determined.
Boats will house many of the functions of the city [churches, schools, and places of exchange of goods and services] because they are able to transport and dock their urban role to any location within the waterways of the city.  More importantly, boats replace the traditional resident’s terrestrial forms of mobility.

The archipelago is made by dredging canals from the existing land and redistributing the displaced volume of earth to elevate the land. As the sea rises, this process will continue and the streets of South Boston too will be dredged, transforming the old city fabric into a regular grid of islands. Each island block will be able to independently raise the datum of its land to a safe level. This city of Future Islands anticipates conditions that will within a century represent the new status quo. It imagines a way of remaking the city from its continental substance and inhabiting that city.
From the scale of the unit’s service core to the scale of the district, the project employs housing as a means to reimagine dwelling and navigating in an imminent future aquatic city. It establishes new relationships between the water, the unit, and collective space and offers a prototype for the city of rising seas.


Who influences you graphically?

Beyond Aldo Rossi’s works of precision and clarity we were drawn to the visions of many artists including the suprematists and the more vague and atmospheric work of Constant Nieuwenhuys, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Robert Burley, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Historical nautical maps also provided for us a language through which to denote our ideas.

What is the effect and purpose of the frames square format?

For the maps, the square frame reveals the possibility to extend infinitely in any direction the content of the drawing, just as our urban vision suggests a repeatable and extensive field. For the cyanotype perspectives, the square frame demands us to very carefully locate the level of the horizon—to determine the images’ relative makeup of water, land, and air.

You explore your proposal mainly through plan, why so?

To design in plan is to think and compose telescopically across scales. Our 1:5000 map comprises the entire project: as you zoom in on this plan, the units, gardens, waterways, watercraft, and plazas come into focus. Plans are always matched with perspectives, which reveal the sectional and experiential quality latent within the plan.

What would be the effect of revealing in perspective view these new hybrid boats? 

The architecture that we imagine becomes a stable matrix within which a new urban aquatic life unfolds. To visualize the hybrid watercraft necessary to sustain this life would reveal the forms of mobility and adaptation that allow inhabitants to navigate the edges and spaces that we have laid out.

How can this new format by expanded to other sinking cities?

Our project postulates urban orders, architectural forms, and patterns of inhabitation for a new aqueous urbanism. Watercraft navigate the flexible fabric of this new reality. The project identifies a unit of development and the new forms of dwelling that it affords. All futures cities that find themselves among water will have to adopt some kind of transformation like the one that we propose.

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