Week 2

My charge this week was to find out as much as possible about both the neighborhood (the HUB) and my building. So I first spent a day up at the Bronx DOB sifting through all  the paperwork they have pertaining to my building. I’m not gonna lie – it was a pretty intense place – and when you go to access records they just hand you a stack of paper ten feet tall and tell you to come back when your done. There isn’t anywhere to go spread out – so I sat myself down in the elevator lobby and tried to record as much as possible by drawing and photographing. There was some really interesting stuff mixed in amongst all the hundreds of elevator inspection slips. As near as I can tell the building was built in 1896 – that’s the earliest building permit I could find – and it was built as a Blumstein’s Dept store. Interestingly, it also included a theater on the 2nd floor on the Third Ave side – probably a vaudeville style show which was pretty prevalent in this area during this period. After only about 20 years it was converted into a Sachs Quality Store which it stayed as until the late 60’s / early 70’s. It was taken over by a bank for a short time, then a furniture store and some other retail mixed in with periods of vacancy throughout the last 30 years or so.

Unfortunately I still haven’t been able to find much on the elevations or the history of the facade – not much in the way of photos or anything. The earliest images I can find are only from 1954 – and by then the building was already pretty much in its current configuration. So I’ll keep looking – but I’m not sure how much more I’ll be able to find.

Topo.ai

In addition to the specific building, I’ve also been researching the HUB neighborhood. I plotted several dynamics separately and then layered them up, trying to pull out any discernible patterns or logic in the development. Using GIS data I plotted things like population, density, small and large food stores, topography, proposed residential development and some other stuff. I really wish I had access to the NYC’s PLUOTO map – there is sooooo much data that has been collected on all of these parcels that I’m sure I could map some great stuff – but they are super expensive, so this is all making due with the data I can get for free. Someday maybe. (there are a bunch more maps added to the  ‘SITE’ tab now)

Topo.ai

Regardless, I certainly didn’t discover anything earth shattering – population centers are concentrated in the public housing zones which form a ring around the edge of the South Bronx – leaving the center (the HUB) largely unoccupied – this is also the result of the zoning of course. When the roads are plotted against the topography it is pretty easily to see how they developed. The tips of two of the three Bronx ridges can be seen in these maps – the ridges run north to south and were glacially formed. Westchester and 149th (the main east-west roads) run through a gap in the center ridge and the whole of the HUB sits on the east slope of a large hill which is part of the westernmost ridge. Third Ave’s curve skirts the bottom of the hill, sticking to the flat-land between the ridges. All pretty straightforward.

01.ai

The economic development of the area is interesting though – while the current population centers are set up in a ring around the HUB, there is a huge amount of proposed development which  is building mixed-use housing right along Third Ave. The idea, I guess, is to turn the HUB into a real neighborhood – right now it functions as a specialty shopping area (clothing, furniture, housewares, etc) but doesn’t really have the infrastructure to support day-to-day living; things like a large grocery, restaurants and the like.

So there is a clear need to develop the sorts of services that a fully-functioning Urban neighborhood depends on – but I just am not sure about this whole mode of mapping. I feel like I do this for every project – map these similar dynamics, determine whats missing, and fill it in – find the square hole and fill it with the square peg. So I’m resistant to the idea of simple plugging the gap. But at the same time, how can this project expect to engage the neighborhood and create development without trying to fix the elements which are demonstrably deficient about the area. But, when you say things like – grocery, market and retail – they seem a bit too simplistic to really push the architecture. What I’d like to do is develop an alternative model of something like a market, one which would fill the gap in the neighborhood but would do more than that  – would participate in the shaping of a new form of community – not simply reproduce the same old dynamics. Similar to this interesting op-ed . . .

Topo.ai

Next on the list however is to finish developing the existing conditions digital model. I modeled the terrain and the immediate neighborhood, but I have to model the building in more detail so I can begin to produce some solar analysis and shading diagrams. I’ll also use the digital model to pump out a quick laser-cut model.

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